This past weekend I ran Night's Black Agents (NBA) for some friends at a small gaming convention. Now I've been interested in NBA for some time because it uses the Gumshoe system, and I have a thing for playing or running games involving characters that are assumed to be competent. While I want to play character that still can become more competent/skilled, I have grown to dislike the zero-to-hero model. From my experiences with NBA this past weekend, while I would have some learning pains with the game, I would definitely be willing to suffer through them while running or playing in a game. It runs fast, we rarely had any moments where someone couldn't do something, and even towards the end, when the chips were down, there were always options. And that's without using all of the options (it was a convention game, none of us had played the game before, so I wanted to cut down the number of the options we had to deal with).
Rather than running the short introductory scenario in the back of the book, I decided I would just run my own small creation because I wanted to see how much of a pain it was to create a scenario for the players, and deal with the power of the Investigative abilities. It isn't so much that I don't know how to handle basic clues, but a constant fear of mine would be coming up with useful information when a player spends a point to get enhanced information.
The scenario I presented was simple - a group of concerned actors had hired the fixer to provide a group of deniable assets to enter into the Separatist region of Ukraine, and intercept a suspected bio-weapon that had been obtain within the boundaries of Russia from a Romanian arms dealer. While it probably wasn't a Soviet era weapon (the lack of markings was a clear give-away) it was a too serious a threat to go away. So the group needed to get in, retrieve the weapon, the scientist traveling with the weapon, and get out. Preferably without getting on the evening news.
I had planned basically three basic stages - the meeting and getting into the region, finding the safe house and the assault, and the vampiric twist. After that I figured everything would have gone to hell, and why bother planning.
As it turned out, I was totally accurate in my assessment.
The PCs took the job, did some preliminary research and set-up, obtaining a TV van for a cover ID, and headed off across Ukraine. Being super spies, there was a montage of the group traveling and bribing various guards of the government and separatist factions.
Once arriving in Luhansk, they triangulated the cell signal to find where the hot headed rebel was hiding, and retasked a satellite to provide updated intel. Note: As the GM, I had absolutely no clue how they were going to find the safe house, I just trusted that they were going to find a way to do it.
And hey, that worked.
They assaulted the dacha, and that's when things started to go bad. Combat is rough, and I think I may have overly estimated their competence with killing things - I had expected the players to go combat heavy because it was a convention game, and well I think I had one universally deadly character, and one fairly deadly character, and everyone else apparently took the "if the guns come out, we've already fucked up, route." And I forgot to calibrate till halfway through the assault and turn the soldiers into mooks.
Though with how poorly the PCs rolled, there may have been no saving them ultimately. One of my players managed to roll something a "1" on a d6 five or six times in a row. "Anything but a one," got to be a curse at the table.
The PCs started in a rough spot and slowly started to pull forward, and then a third group entered the scene, but the PCs stayed upstairs, and eventually they went away.
The PCs captured the scientist, captured the hot headed rebel, made it downstairs and discovered that the third group had been apparently after the bioweapon, which the scientist admitted wasn't a traditional weapon, but something far weirder, a "Dracul."
"A Dracul? I'm not familiar with that organization," the team face said in a perfect response.
And the chase was on, they cornered the leader, his five zombie assistants, and one still sedated ghoul strapped into the passenger seat of a pick-up truck in an alley and the fight went .... poorly. The previous fight in the dacha took most of the points they had to spend for reliability, so when the shooting started here, success was at the mercy of the dice's grace.
And see the previous statement about their luck.
The fight was brutal, and I'm sure if we all had more familiarity, they could have gotten at least partial refreshes back, but the fight was suitably climatic which ended with a dead Renfield, five dead zombies, an escaping, but re-sedated, ghoul, and of the five agents? Only one was in positive health, the rest, were various levels of hurt, included two within a stiff breeze's worth of death.
I call that a win. They all, barely lived, and if this was the start of an actual campaign, they all would have been introduced to the realities of vampires in the world, and have a place to start dealing with the conspiracy.
As I've mentioned, the game runs quick, and like other single die systems, is fairly brutal. By default the chance of most actions is either 3+ or 4+ on a d6, which makes it fairly likely the players will succeed. I definitely will be looking at using the Gumshoe system, at least as an inspiration, as it removes a lot of the "Gee, the game stops if the player's fail their investigation roll." There are definitely lots of bits and pieces (Heat, Mental Health) that we never engaged in, but for a 4ish hour session, including character creation, I will probably be adding this to my "to buy" pile.