Category Archives: RPG

Thoughts On Night's Black Agents Solo-Ops

I’ve played countless tabletop roleplaying games over the years, but only a few experiences come close to what Night’s Black Agents Solo-Ops by Pelgrane Press offers. What sets NBA Solo-Ops apart is, that it’s not your regular multiplayer roleplaying game, but it’s meant to be played by one GM and a single player. As I’ve already pointed out in my article about Cthulhu Confidential, another game powered by Gumshoe One-2-One, this is a very intense experience. Please note that this article contains spoilers.

In Night’s Black Agents Solo-Ops you – as a player – take on the role of Leyla Khan, a former MI6 agent who recently managed to escape from the influence of a Romanian vampire – at least if you are playing the official adventures included in the core rulebook. Players and GMs are of course free to create their own characters and come up with their stories.

Last year my friend Ralf ran the first adventure called “Never Say Dead” for me, which started with Leyla waking up in hospital bed with no memory of where or even who she was. During the course of the adventure I traveled to Budapest, uncovered some information about my character’s past, and avoided forces sent both by the vampire who once “owned” her and one of his rivals.

We completed the adventure in a single session and I not only managed to kill my former master, but I also escaped Budapest with a special artifact which supposedly helps against vampiric influence. Yay! Usually I am no huge fan of pregenerated characters but in this case it wasn’t so bad. Aside from some background Leyla is pretty much a blank slate (amnesia helps) and you can mold her into the character you want to play.

During the first adventure I was pretty much on the run all the time. Paranoia was high and most of the time I felt quite helpless, although Leyla is quite a skilled agent. Especially when dealing with mortal foes and regular opposition you feel quite competent, but – oh boy – things change as soon as you have to deal with the supernatural.

The second adventure, which we started playing last Saturday, is called “No Grave For Traitors”. This time Leyla is in Spain following a lead which may eventually lead to uncovering more about the vampire conspiracy. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this time I attended a drug boss’ party, fought members of a Moroccan drug cartel while wearing high heels and a little black dress, continued my research in London where I eventually tried to track down a former Hungarian scholar who was obviously under the influence of another Vampire.

As last time I had a lot of fun. If I hadn’t had a train to catch, I would have loved to continue playing. Playing Leyla Khan slowly becomes second nature and I am curious to see where my investigation leads me. I am a sucker for a good mystery, and the one spun by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is definitely an intriguing one. The game also makes you feel like a competent spy. You can truly be badass in this game, even though obstacles and opponents still feel like a threat. Having such a balanced experience is rare and I applaud the people at Pelgrane Press for pulling this off.

I also love the Gumshoe One-2-One mechanics, which I described in some detail in my Cthulhu Confidential post. The push mechanic is definitely more interesting than the spending mechanic from regular Gumshoe. I am glad Pelgrane Press decided to introduce it into their newer multiplayer games as well. Overall I am extremely happy with my Gumshoe One-2-One experiences. Cthulhu Confidential was great, but IMHO NBA Solo Ops is even better. One reason is that I get slightly tired of the Cthulhu Mythos, but I also just love the technothriller-meets-Vampires setting of Night’s Black Agents. My recommendation: if you have the chance to play Night’s Black Agents Solo Ops, don’t hesitate, but grasp the opportunity. It’s well worth it!

Getting Children into Gaming

There are a few popular games for getting younger children into gaming. The most successful is probably Hero Kids by Justin Halliday, with Amazing Tales by Martin Lloyd coming in second. Both games are aiming at gamers as young as 4 years old, which is pretty impressive.

In December I was involved in some idle chatting on a discord server and we started talking about simple systems aimed at children. Before the evening was out we had roughed out a basic core mechanic and were adding in what amounts to feats, magic items, and monsters.

As these things do, it soon took on a life of its own and last night we released our own RPG. We think the target audience is in the 8 to 12 age group. It is a very long time since I have been 8 to 12 years old and those were simpler times, or so we like to tell ourselves.

The game is called The Things That Grown Ups Cannot See, or Things! for short. Right now it is in that nerve-wracking stage of trying to find playtesters.

If you know someone with children in that sort of age group and they are interested in RPGs they can grab Things! as a free download from DriveThruRPG.

The core concept of the game is that the player characters are living normal lives in today’s world, they go to school, they have Instagram accounts and mobile phones. They are also special in that they can see, the fey world, the things that grown-ups don’t seem to see.

The style of play is very much narrative. There is an in-game meta currency called Power and when a play spends a Power Point they get to take over the narrative until the next player or the Storyteller (GM) spends a Power Point to take control of the story. Think of Power as Fate points in many other systems but here they are the central motive force driving the story.

The more games you read and play, the more bits that get stuck in your mind. Some things are instantly brilliant and you love them. Others may be good ideas but poorly executed and others just don’t work for you. We could all make a list of game mechanics and everyone’s lists would be different. I would also wager that the same mechanic in one game may be a turn-off but in a different game, the same mechanic works well.

I mention this as in a game that took only a couple of hours to put the core rules together there is very little in here that is completely new if anything. The amusing thing is what I would consider its main influences. At least one grandparent would be Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of and another would be Zweihander, neither of which I would class a particularly child-friendly.

As to what came from where I will let you decide.

Happy Ending

A couple of years ago I ran a handful of posts about creating a game based upon playing cards.

At the time I just thrashed out the core rules.

In the next update I shared links to a playtest of a functional game.

Now two years after those first posts the game has not only completed its play test but I also ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for it and the final game has been released as both PDF and physical books.

What prompted this post was an email I received this morning. The content was a nice piece of feedback from a GM running the game with his group. He was not only running the game but he also shared the first house rule that they had developed.

It is one thing to write a game. Anyone can do that. It is easy to self publish, again anyone can do that. Seeing your work in print is quite cool but all it takes is a bit of software for the layout and €10 to order a set of print proofs. It is knowing that people are playing, enjoying and making the game their own that made it all worthwhile.

If it hadn’t been for this blog I don’t know if I would have ever come up with the ideas, or if I had, I am not sure I would have developed it into a working game.

So if you fancy trying something new over Christmas, you could do worse than checking out Devil’s Staircase Wild West.