Drive Thru RPG Review: Night’s Black Agents

A few weeks ago I headed out to my local comic shop for a little retail therapy.  While I picked my few comics I spied an interesting book on the shelf.  It was entitled Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite.  I knew that having Mr. Hite as the author meant that this was going to be something good.  When I read the back cover I was sold.  This was a game that combined the spy thriller with vampiric conspiracy where Bram Stoker’s Dracula meets The Bourne Identity.  It quickly joined my few comics in my trek through the store.

My schedule kept me from being able to put any time into the book until I went out of town for a conference.  It was in the evenings after events wound down that I was able to dig into the book.  I couldn’t believe that I had not picked up this book when it was first released as it fired on all cylinders and dealt with the topics that I love, Vampires and Spies.

Night’s Black Agent’s uses the Gumshoe system.  It is a very simple system requiring only a single D6.  Outcomes are determined by the roll of a D6 compared to a difficulty number ranging from 2 to 8 with the ability to spend points from your skill to affect the roll.  A very simple system where the complexity lies within the skills themselves.

The system has Investigative skills and general skills.  Investigative skills are somewhat self-explanatory.  They provide the information that is necessary to move forward with a spy operation.  Information is the engine that drives the story and for this reason investigative skills always succeed.  In addition to keeping the game moving, it also allows for multiple was of communicating this information to the players.  The Director can have a list of the character skills and tell them the important info when they enter the scene or allow the players to choose what skills they would like to try and deliver the info through the lens of their choice if possible.  Players may also spend points from their investigative skill to get more information if it is available or provide a future benefit from a more thorough investigation at this juncture.  Once the intelligence has been gathered, general skills come into play.  These are the skills that allow your character to pull off the feats of daring do that you see on the big screen.  These differ from investigative skills in that there is always the chance of failure.  These skills range from the standard combat skills you have come to expect from an rpg to the network skill that reflects your connectedness to the shadowy espionage community.  The ability to spend points from your general skill allows for the character to grab the spotlight and succeed when the odds seemed stacked against them.

Night’s Black Agents also has a mechanic for choosing the type of spy thriller you would like to play.  This called the mode of play and consists of Default, Burn, Stakes, Dust, and Mirror.  The mechanics for these types of games are appropriately marked throughout the game.  The Default mode of the game is a cinematic thriller.  This is what the rules as written are set up for and require no special changes to maintain.  Dust mode is a grittier and more realistic style in line with Three Days of the Condor. Mirror mode is based on movies like Spy Games and Mission Impossible.  The landscape is one of ever shifting loyalties and the inability to ever fully trust anyone you are working with as they may be using you to further there own personal agenda. If  the Bourne Identity is more to your liking, then Burn mode is what you are looking for.  This mode highlights the emotional damage inherent in the business of espionage.  Finally, there is the Stakes mode.  This style of play is more in line with Bond films and novels wherein the protagonist is driven by higher ideals and is willing to sacrifice themselves for those same ideals.  This ability to dial the style of play to fit the mood of the table is something that I appreciate being supported mechanically.

As one would expect, the book has a section devoted to the Vampire conspiracy as well.  It breaks the idea down into manageable chunks making it very simple to go through and create a vampire that should be enjoyable and fresh to everyone at the table.  There are sidebars throughout this section dealing with different issues that present themselves while designing your vampire.  These can be anything from how many vampires is a good number to use to the problem of a player that wants be a vampire.  Each of which has valuable advice for how to handle these issues within the game and pointing out issues you may have based on your choices.

The book itself is a beautiful 232 pages in full color.  The art is sparse throughout the book but this is more than made up for by the great layout.  The writing is excellent and sprinkled liberally with historical and cinematic references making for an enjoyable read.   I was highly impressed and look forward to getting the chance to run this game for my group soon.  If you are a fan of the spy genre, this is a game for you.

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