Perplexity: Night's Black Agents

I want to love the Ken Hite RPG Night’s Black Agents. Hell. I’d settle for being able to grok it just well enough to run it. But I have a problem and two perplexities.

The problem. I find the skill pool mechanism for procedural skills very off-putting. I think I understand what the point pool limits are for — to force emulation of hack writing — but I find it bewildering to have to husband points during the game, especially during a tense scene. I’m making a decision that will likely determine the outcome of the scene, but it doesn’t correspond to anything in the game world. And as GM — I have no idea how to decide how many of an NPCs points so spend on on a roll. What am i saving them for?

The first perplexity. Holy Dooley! NPCs are tough! PCs aren’t going to go through SWAT and special operators like Jason Bourne, they’re going to have to gang up to take down even one of them. Even the Bodyguard of a mafioso etc. is pretty challenging. How are PCs supposed to prevail in confrontations with violently-inclined NPCs?

The second perplexity. Could someone explain how going through immigration at an airport or border crossing works? It seems to me that every crossing costs permanent points of Cover, and that a fairly ordinary adventure can easily cost more in ID checks than it earns in experience.

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Have you considered running it in another system that you like better? (For me that’s GURPS; not necessarily for you.)

Yeah, but there are a few things I really like about NBA: MOS, Preparedness, Contacts… even Technothriller Monologue.

I was going to flick thru the rulebook and answer some of this, but then realised that a mate had borrowed it and not given it back… So this is from memory.

NPCs points. They are partly there to let you pace the fight. If the NPC has 8 points and you spend 2 per combat round, then you are anticipating a combat which lasts 4 rounds. In addition, the supernatural NPCs have to spend some of their points to activate special abilities. (Other special abilities are free). Without the rulebook I can’t check, but IIRC a big bad vampire can just heal X hit points per round, but a ghoul has to spend a point to do so.

Are NPCs tough? My players were incredibly risk averse in NBA, but when they did get into a fight I don’t recall the NPCs being tough. They certainly aren’t that tough in Ashen Stars, which is the same system. The only one I remember the PCs having trouble with in that was an end level boss alien monster which could regenerate a shedload of hitpoints (without spending points).

Immigration/Cover. They only need to spend Cover points if they are swapping identities when they cross borders. In addition they only need to do it to create a new identity. If they are really Fred Bloggs, and they bought the identity Joe Soap during char gen (or an earlier adventure), then they can cross borders as Fred Bloggs or Joe Soap as many times as they like.

The only problem is if Fred Bloggs is now wanted for murder in the UK so he flees as Joe Soap to the USA, then commits more murders there and has to spend to create a 3rd ID (John Doe) to flee to Mexico. Murder spree continues and he spends to flee to Iceland as a 4th person.

And there is no spend if they are crossing borders illegally, without bothering with all that pesky customs and immigration stuff. The local intelligence agencies might notice that Fred Bloggs is in their country without passing thru customs, but unless the vampires are plugged into that network, that only affects the Heat mechanic.

My players too were very risk adverse and it took a lot for them to get into the ‘super-agent’ feel of the game. I think I needed to learn the art of just piling on event after event, challenge after challenge: I found that very hard especially given the improvised nature of the DOSSIER.

I didn’t get the hang of the Conspyramid at all!

Immigration is one of the sub-problems of Heat and I don’t think I did a good job of maintaining the sense of being constantly pursued even when the television was blaring out reports of them being involved in terrorism and satanic practices. Mostly Heat acted as a points drain: they constantly had to build up fresh Cover and then use it.

Both I and my players found using the system counter intuitive… And I’m probably not doing much to encourage you to try am I?