A couple of quick provisos before I launch in:
1: This is my first GUMSHOE game and, as such, some errors may occur. I’m happy to edit the article to address the mistakes once I learn of them but all this is by way of saying “Don’t treat this as gospel”.
2: Some of my thinking is going to be vague as I haven’t playtested or run the game yet. I’ll try to make some sense of the story in how it relates to the adventure design process but there is a paranoid part of me that doesn’t want to spoil everything here for fear of a potential player spotting it. To be honest the viewing stats should disabuse me of that concern.
3: I work in Android and don’t possess the knowledge to adequately provide an iOS alternative.
Onto the article!
The initial idea for this game emerged from Bill Murray’s Ask Me Anything on Reddit. He was spruiking for his film – Monuments Men – and was discussing the concept of the film and the history that inspired it. In particular, he talked about how the Nazis hid billions of dollars in gold, jewels, art and other precious things in a place called Merkers Mine. The contents of the mine were discovered by Allied Forces and seized by Patton and Eisenhower until it was returned to the German people and those victimised by the Nazi Party.
The actual event is fantastic in the telling, so much so adding a vampire who called Merkers Mines its home and having it steal some of the fortune kinda leaves me cold by comparison, but here we are.
My adventure provides some explanation of the initial funding of a conspiracy that was played out in the Ultraviolet TV series – which I won’t go into here for fear of spoiling the adventure and the TV series – basically involving blood substitutes, genetic experimentation and nuclear winter; none of which are cheap!
The players will have to trace the ill-gotten funds to uncover the head of the conspiracy while dodging supernatural and criminal elements that are determined to protect it.
I’ve put players against conspiracies before, but I haven’t yet designed one from the ground up. Fortunately the rulebook for Night’s Black Agents provides a process for helping to do that. It’s called “The Conspyramid”!
A method where flunkies at a local level are at the base while the head of the conspiracy – usually a vampire and usually with an international influence – resides at the top. Each tier represents a level of influence from local, to city, to province, to national to international. When filling in the blanks, draw arrows between the tiers tp represent communication channels that show either two-way communication/influence or a top-down/bottom-up dictatorial process. In other words, how much about the guy above know about the guy below. Useful for interrogation and hostage swaps.
I wanted a template that would give me room to mess up a draft, discard and rewrite without handwriting or copious post-its so I go to an app I’ve been wanting to use for a while:
Basically Cardboard provides a corkboard and a bunch of cards to pin up in a grid. Once on the board, you shuffle to your heart’s content. A couple of changes in its settings so that cards would centre-align means I’m able to replicate the Conspyramid.
Something that Kenneth Hite suggests is working out what the pyramid provides for the guy on top. Vampire interest lurks in the intersection of Protection, Money and Blood. Deciding that I want to represent that on my template, I change some of the card colours:
- Green for money,
- blue for protection, and
- red for blood.
It’s when I’m changing the card colours and trying to make the hierarchy logical that it occurs to me that this method excels at boiling down just what a vampire considers important. To my mind – Money, Protection and Blood – means there will be one of these three that gets abandoned for the other two. Money and protection means that taking blood will compromise one of those two interests. Money and blood means that the provider is disposable. Protection and blood means the guy isn’t likely to get a job.
In this case, I decide that Blood and Money are the most important. That decision crystallizes a lot of the vampire’s thinking for me, as well as provides a weakness for the secret agents to exploit. After some shuffling, the template looks like this:
The only thing wrinkle is I’m yet to smooth out is how to include lines of communication.
With the pyramid in place and a basic layout achieved, it’s time to fill in some cards. Things are still a bit vague for a tight-knit global conspiracy and the more of a skeleton I can assemble, the more meat I can hang off it. Fortunately there’s an app that should help knit things together.
There used to be an Android app for this website but for some reason it was taken down. The website still works.
This is a simple app that is so useful to writers and GMs that it should be part of their standard kit. Basically you pick a gender, nationality and country and the app provides you with this:
Even if you don’t use all of the details, it’ll generate some ideas. In this case it provides a lot of sundry details I can use for clues in the adventure. Unintentionally I also get blood type for each identity, so that’s useful! I’ve got into the habit of generating and saving a half-dozen names just so I have some Non-Player Characters ready for when I need them.
Names are powerful in communicating character and purpose so I start adding these names to the Conspyramid in tiers and occupations I think will be useful.
With the sundry details handled, I turn my attention to what will be the next post: The path of Core Clues.