February 6, 2022 review theory

Night’s Black(pill) Agents

During my ongoing game of Night’s Black Agents (NBA) we had a realisation. One of the player character’s strategies is the ironically termed vamp-pilling’ of potential allies - giving them knowledge of the vampiric conspiracy as they understand it at that point. They’ve previously brought eco-terrorists aboard after their leader was turned into a vampire and went on a rampage immediately - they just had to explain what happened, the nature of the conspiracy came after.
The target of this specific conversion was an Academic, studying early Saxon culture. The target, and the player character, had both been born and grown up in Germany - and the conversation was happening on a German university campus. As the now-practised spiel began, it hit me - the allusions to a secret manipulator group, hidden in plain sight - using the good, noble institutions for their own dark deeds to subvert and control. The acquisition of human blood for their own, unspeakable rites.

It sounded like Nazi shit - the PCs inadvertently trotting out anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and substituting the slurs with vampires’. Blood libel and infiltrators insinuating themselves into established power structures map nearly 1:1 with the vampires modus operandi.

Obviously, the NPC recoiled - but once proof of the very literal and real conspiracy was demonstrated, they joined the PCs in trying to defeat the conspiracy. This is a process they’ve repeated a few times, albeit in less detail in subsequent efforts, as they’ve worked out effective strategies for recruitment. The number of parallels felt uncomfortable with the explicit real world’ setting of the game. I don’t think this is a bad thing as such, but given the political climate was a lot realer’ than you’d expect for a game of super-spies vs vampires.

The obvious monstrousness of the vampires 1 is a cause for just war. Published in 2012, the consequences of just’ and good’ and humanitarian’ wars is not a fringe topic - the very real abuse of POWs by the DoD and the abuses of the CIA (explicitly one of the previous PC employers in the book) before, during and after the Iraq war were in the public consciousness. In media following this period, we can see examples of justified’ torture - Zero Dark Thirty, or the electrocution scene in Taken 2 - and ignorance of the realities of the incredibly low value of information gained through enhanced interrogation’ - not the mention the radicalising effect torture has upon its victims and their families. One of the possible PC skills is Interrogation, and similarly makes no mention of the quality of intelligence gained this way.

NBA posits itself as a work of genre emulation and mash-up - but the uncritical reproduction of justified war against a monstrous foe, the gloves coming off’ - a fantasy of total freedom to engage in any act against a foe so evil as to ensure your acts become permissible. You are even explicitly vigilantes, freed from governmental oversight.

I do not think PCs need to be good guys. I do not think they need to be protagonists - my favourite games have been about people in a world rather than protagonists in a story. But the framing of the book and the playing of the game have not felt like an examination of bad people, nor as a confrontation of such acts as they occur in the real world - it has felt like a morally pure playground for repugnant action, historically perpetrated by the intelligence apparatus of militaristic states.

To be clear, this isn’t a cancel Ken Hite” post or something.

  1. In the text of NBA.↩︎

  2. Explicitly called out as good inspiration in NBA.↩︎

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