Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Night's Black Agents Player-Vs-Player-By-Post Orientation

Welcome to Sofia!

If Australia was smaller, made of water, and in the middle of Eurasia, it'd be the Black Sea. Bulgaria is a country on the west coast of it. Sofia is the capital of it.

You are either one of a handful of people playing a game of player-vs-player Night's Black Agents set there or are one of thousands of people reading a message to those people about a game you aren't playing.

(For the latter: I'll try not to make a habit of this.)


The big news this week is, around midnight on a Friday, Viktor Gavrilov--portly, mid-fiftyish owner of several exotic dance clubs in the city--appeared sweating, crying and dancing on stage at his very own Club Nefertiti wearing nothing but his headset cellphone.

Rumor has it this was because one of the Russian mobs moving into the city was telling him, through that very headset phone, that they had his daughter and were going to kill him if he didn't.

This incident is just one of many lurid acts of intimidation and violence perpetrated by Russian gangs in Sofia in recent months.

What does this mean for you? Who knows? Depends on who your PC is--gangster, spy, waif, diplomat, and what your PC's secret goal is. That secret goal I've probably already given you along with your character sheet.

Achieve your goal and you'll win!
Die before achieving it, or be placed in such a position where achieving it is impossible and you lose.

There will likely be multiple winners and multiple losers.

Since this is a play-by-post game, you each have been given a private channel to talk to me on, but you may talk to each other or to everybody if you like, just remember to add me in.

Some of you have characters completely made that I gave you.

 Some of you will need to add some details using the handy reference below...

click to enlarge
Either way, here's the important stuff...

That grid of numbers at the top is your health. You know what that is. Most bullets do d6 damage.

Everybody ignore the stuff about the size of your group.

If you already have a pre-made character I gave you, don't worry about buying points of stuff in red and blue. You already have points in stuff.

No matter how you got points (I gave them to you or you built your own PC) the way the system works is you spend them to do stuff.

Left and middle columns are investigative/autosuccess abilities--you get 20 pts to spread throughout  these 2 columns. Each thing you have at least 1 pt in means you can use it once in this game to find something out with it. You will get information. You spend these points and they do not come back during this game. Most of these abilities will have 0, 1 or mayyybe 2 pts. 3 if you're insane about that thing.

They aren't autosuccessful if another PC opposes you. But they usually won't for these abilities.

Nota bene: I am misusing this system and it isn't supposed to work exactly like this.  It'll be ok, trust me.

The 3rd column is general abilities, in combat or tense situations they work on a gambling mechanic--they can fail. You spend them, too. 8 is a lot. Basically you roll a d6 and try to hit a threshold number I tell you or don't tell you, and declare how many pts you wanna spend before you roll. These points won't come back either.

Special/confusing stuff on there:

Human Terrain:

like anthropology and social sciences--"reading" a group or city or whatever.


This is the skill to see if you have special equipment you need on you at any given moment.


If you are making your character, you start with 1 language and get 2 additional languages per pt spent.

The following two are confusing because the points you get in them are recorded in the right column, but their specific details are recorded on the left.

Network Contacts:

These are people you know who do or know stuff. They have ratings and spend like other investigative abilities. You make these people up and assign them point values, like you can go "My brother Edgar is a 5 pt shoemaker" and now you have a 5 pt shoemaker contact. Those 5 points are in Edgar until you have Edgar spends them to do stuff, then they're gone. You can (and probably should) split your points up on multiple contacts.


A lot like contacts--these are alternate identities you have. The more points you put in them, the more convincing they are. Once spent, these covers are useless.

You can let cover and contact points "float" until you actually need them--they don't have to make up specific people/identities they're assigned to right away.

The game starts basically immediately: you can send me private messages or your can post public behavior or rules questions in the G+ thread under this entry or you can start conversations with other players, just remember to plus me in to them.


CaptPoco said...

As a Bulgarian who used to live in Sofia, this is pretty awesome. If you need any background info on modern Sofia, its people and customs, I'd be happy to help.

Zak Sabbath said...

I would love that, Captain
How is it different (to you) from other cities in Eastern Europe?
Is it all cars, or is there transit and bikes popular?
Do people eat out a lot, or mostly just tourists?
When they do, is it bulgarian food, or is it like Germany where the best spots are immigrant food?
Does it feel dense or spread out?
Are there neighborhoods which are all pre-20th c buildings?
Are there neighborhoods which are all soviet-era buildings?
Are people into soccer or some other sport?
What's the mix of pre-80s cars to new ones?
Is it one of those cities where unmarried girls always get really made up before they go out even if it's just for milk?
Are most TV shows local or foreign?
Are there a lot of Bulgarian movies?
What do people watch on TV most?
Is it one of those countres where people drink at every meal?
Is it breakfast-lunch-dinner or is there a different schedule?
Is there a distinctive bulgarian dish that people eat a lot that is characteristic of that area?
Is the internet good? (I hear the wifi is flawless)
Is it a coffee city, a tea city or something else?
What did you like best about it?
Is there a lot of greenery in the city?
Is it terrible? Do people who live there all want to leave?
The UN and reporters seem to think there's a lot of russian organized crime--is it visible?
What do people drink?
What brand of cigarettes do people smoke?
Anything else?

CaptPoco said...

Ok, this ended up being much longer than I expected... I had to separate it out into a few posts.

Sofia is a relatively new city by European standards. Built on hot springs at the foot of a great mountain (Vitosha) it was a small trading post for much of the 19th century until it was chosen as the site for the new capital after Bulgaria's liberation from Turkish rule in 1878 (about a decade after the US Civil War). The newly liberated Bulgaria swiftly came under the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and thus the administrative buildings of Sofia, as well as places like Sofia University and the National Theatre, all have a charming Viennese fin de siècle architecture. Moving out towards the edge of the city, Soviet "liberation" after WWII left behind row after row of dismal tenements. Beyond those is the airport, and beyond that is open country dotted with red roofed stucco villages.

Eating out is cheap and most people eat out fairly regularly. The locals like their food, and foreign food is not
particularly popular, except perhaps for French or American food. MacDonald’s and Pizza Hut have chains here just
like everywhere else. The local cuisine is varied, but revolves around Feta cheese dishes and lamb dishes. Lamb is
consumed almost as much as Americans eat beef. Feta cheese is just called "cheese" and is a feature of almost every
meal; whether rolled into a spanakopita, shredded onto Greek salad (again, just called "salad") or just eaten in
chunks, Bulgarians can't get enough. For breakfast, fried dough cakes (mekitzi) are popular. For hangovers, tripe
soup is a mainstay. It is essentially a thickened stock with vinegar and garlic, which is then boiled with rubbery
bits of lamb stomach. Delicious.

As far as urban landscape, Sofia is equal parts decrepit, crumbling old Soviet apartment blocks, faded Viennese
baroque buildings near the city center, and cheesy Vegas-style casinos around every other block. Vast, crowded open
air markets spanning entire city streets for blocks are the norm, as are abandoned buildings, overgrown parks, and
ruined old Soviet monuments and mausolea.

Sofia is very spread out. Crowds are rare except in bazaars.

As awful as it sounds, the folks who made Half-Life 2 did their research when it comes to old Soviet capital cities.
Many parts of Sofia are indistinguishable from City 17. The stairwell in the first apartment you visit, in
particular, caught me by surprise. It looked absolutely identical to the stairwell in my grandma's flat.

"Unmarried girls always get really made up before they go out"- How quaint. No, this is not customary.

Public transit is cheap and reliable. Trams and omnibuses may be found at almost any street corner within seconds,
and taxi rates are almost laughably low. That said, bikes are not terribly popular.

CaptPoco said...

Bulgaria is currently experiencing a love affair with American media. TV shows and movies from 15-20 years ago are
wildly popular and available on almost every channel. In terms of local programing (other than news), people watch a local late-night show modeled on Letterman or Carson. The host is one Slavi Trifonov. Likewise, a Monty-Python style sketch show called "UFO Club" (Club NLO) used to be popular. "Bulgarian Idol" is a thing. Terrible dubbing and cheap local knockoffs are the rule.

Cinema is one of the fastest growing industries in Bulgaria today. American film companies have been arriving in
droves to shoot direct-to-video-or-worse pictures. Sylvester Stallone's recent box office bomb Expendables 2 was
filmed almost entirely in Bulgaria.

The home-grown movie industry is almost non-existent. "Bulgarian movie stars" exist, but they are from socialist
times, when the state funded grand national epics about Bulgaria's glorious medieval past and its liberation from
Turkish rule in the 19th century.

The internet is absolutely world class. I live in the States now, and I miss my Bulgarian wifi...

Breakfast-lunch-dinner is the rule. No second-breakfasts here, I'm afraid.

Soccer is the national sport. On big game days, expect firecrackers and noisemakers late into the night.

Pre-80s cars are fairly common. In a roleplaying game, it might be fun to have modern cars be a sort of status
symbol, with common people still driving East German clunkers. In reality, only the poor drive such old cars.

Bulgaria suffers from the worst demographic crisis of any country in the EU. Simply put, there are few people here
between 18-35 years old. It's not that Bulgaria is so terrible... but a quick train will take you (no passport
needed) to Germany, where the job outlook is considerably more sunny. Still, Bulgaria's economy is on the rise, and
things are much better than the dark days of 1989.

Bulgarian organized crime has a flavor very similar to 1920s America. It is endemic, and the people have accepted it more or less, as long as it doesn't stir up too much trouble. Occasionally, it is even a source of entertainment
when there is a particularly theatrical gangland execution or some daring robbery. The heads of organized crime are
mostly either old soldiers or former Olympic athletes. Old Commie Bulgaria spent a lot of money on sports; New
Capitalist Bulgaria not so much. Many of these old boxers thus went into business for themselves, keeping their
WWE-style monikers (The Punching Bag, The Skull, The Doctor, etc). As might be expected, the police are there to
clean up afterwards and make sure the correct things get on the morning news; no police officer in his right mind
would refuse a bribe.

CaptPoco said...

Last one! Probably the most interesting one, actually.

What do people drink? The quality of amateur liquor production (aka. moonshine) is very high, with many home
distillers using techniques passed on through generations. Plum brandy (rakia) is practically the national drink.
That said, Bulgaria has decent wine country, and wine is both cheaper and of better quality than anywhere in the US,
except maybe California. Sitting down at a table without beer is considered somewhat eccentric; the locals will
assume you are either Muslim, a tourist, or pregnant. Beer, like the wine, is local. Kamenitza ("Rocky Mountain")
and Zagorka ("from Stara Zagora") are the most popular brands of beer. Finally, ordering "Just coffee, please" will
get you a demitasse of Turkish coffee. Most Bulgarians don't see the point of weaker coffee, though of course cream,
sugar, and freeze-dried instant coffee are almost as common here as anywhere else.

What brand of cigarettes do people smoke? Lucky Strike is pretty popular. However, unlike the states, there is no
stigma associated with smoking, esp. at a young age. Not only are "No Smoking" signs rare, but just as with alcohol
and drugs, age restrictions on use are not enforced. A 10 year old is just as likely to smoke as a 50 year old.

Names: Bulgarians have a handful of traditional names, and almost nobody has a name that strays from the norm. Some
names are Daniel (Dan-il), Ivan, Petar, Vasil, Theodor, Tsvetan, Alexander, and Asen. Female names are the same,
except with an "-a" suffix. Last names are also the same, except with an "-off" or "-ov" suffix. Female last names
have both suffixes, for "-ova". For example: Ivan Vasilov, Tsvetan Theodorov, Asen Alexanderoff, Daniella Ivanova,
Tsvetana Petrova. People with names like Ivan Ivanoff or Alexander Alexanderoff are not uncommon.

Race: Strangely enough, everyone in Bulgaria is an ethnic Bulgarian member of the Eastern Orthodox Church (at least
nominally). Sizable minorities are simply not to be found. Even Turks, whose Ottoman Empire occupied Bulgaria for more than a century, are a rare sight. The only exception is the Roma, who comprise the Bulgarian underclass (prostitutes, beggars, roofers, builders, dancers, singers, drivers, cutpurses, etc). A transient people who speak their own difficult to learn language, Roma are mostly segregated from the general population as much as possible, operating on the fringes of society. Inroads have been recently made at assimilation and most Bulgarian pop music has Roma influence, but general acceptance is far from achieved. Blacks in NYC during the Harlem Renaissance faced a comparable level of prejudice.

Zak Sabbath said...

Poco, that was super awesome! So helpful!