An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive expansion book for Night's Black Agents clocks in at 134 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 3 pages of ToC, leaving us with 123 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This review was moved up forward in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for an honest and critical review.
All right, so, if you recall my original review of Night's black Agents, you'll recall that I have received said book as a gift from a friend of mine and how much I loved it - however, there always remained one particular observation that may be considered somewhat problematic: Night's black Agents is based on the GUMSHOE engine, which is perhaps the best investigative RPG-engine out there. At the same time, though, Night's Back Agent's different gameplay styles at least partially implied a higher degree of emphasis on action and high-octane gameplay than what you'd see in Trail of Cthulhu or Esoterrorists. Night's Black Agents managed to partially offset the engine not being per se designed for this type of gameplay via the introduction of a significant amount of thoroughly inspired tweaks to the system. Well, if you're like me and have played a couple of Night's Black Agents-scenarios, you'll immediately notice what this book is: It's the high-octane Advanced Player's Guide, the 13 True Ways, of Night's Black Agents.
Let me elaborate: The book is divided into two sections, one for players and one for directors, with the player-section beginning with abilities - here, we are introduced to ability focuses like money laundering that concisely define what can be done with them; better yet, the respective entries do sport a plethora of techniques associated with the respective ability focus - in the above example, we'd for example receive information on overseas accounts, shell companies and the like. The abilities also sport tactical fact finding benefits that list sample possible spends and clues, the latter of which sport the handy glyphs denoting the nature of vampires in your given campaign. Beyond offering benefits for the players, this excessive section also provides a significant amount of unique hooks that directors can utilize to weave into their respective campaigns - from astrophysics to handling radioactive material to gladhandling via Cryptography, this chapter provides an immensely enriching array of options not only for investigative abilities, but also for the various general abilities featured.
Indeed, beyond significantly enriching the rich tapestry of options at the beck and call of the agents, the supplemental rules also improve the versatility and variety of action-scenarios available. Oh, and if you're annoyed by absolute super-pro secret agents failing certain tests, then you may want to check out the optional mastery rules provided. That being said - yes, this chapter also covers an impressive array of new cherries for your agents, further diversifying the abilities and improving the reward ratio for specialization beyond what the core-book offered -from retro-active pickpocketing to nigh-undefusable bomb-set-ups, this chapter is a true beauty and further cements Night's Black Agents as the mechanically most refined GUMSHOE game out there.
Beyond combat-centric cherries and a general expansion of abilities, one should not fail to mention the tricks of the trade - usually requiring 8+ in the respective ability, these allow for superb cheating skills via a 3-point spend, improvising alibis, mad hacking skills (played via hilarious techno-babble) or even James Bond/Knightrider-esque signature vehicles. And yes, this extends to a set of unique and inspired new thriller combat maneuvers, including being thrown away by the blast - riding the shockwave, if you will. On a personal note, that had me chuckle quite a bit since it's been a running joke in my games ever since I once managed to evade a lethal 20T-explosion in Shadowrun and come out of it unscathed thanks to a ridiculous amount of luck. Now one basic issue regarding espionage tradecraft ultimately remains the problem of what can be done with which ability - here, adaptive tradecraft helps, suggesting a rather impressive amount of uses for the respective abilities in uncommon ways - from monitoring a negotiation to manipulating webcams, this section, once again, is all about the glorious options that should be at the fingertips of elite spies.
If your players are like mine, they will have, not only in-game, immensely benefited from the standard operation procedures and thus quickened the general pace with which you can handle complex operations, investigations and plans - well, there's more here: The Carthagena rules should further help agents operate within the challenging requirements of destroying a global vampire conspiracy.
Obviously, an agent is only as good as his tools - we did learn that from Mr. Bond et al., right? Hence, new materiel is introduced - by the buckets: Voice synthesizers, scramblers, facial masking, RFID sniffers and even low-powered wrist lasers can be found here. And yes, the optional rules here also cover the effects of EMP-weaponry, should you wish to go that route! Oh, for high-octane games, I should also mention jetpacks, while dust-games in particular will appreciate e.g. winches or magnetic licensing plates. And yes, if you're particularly prepared, you can benefit from the Q-rule and have utterly awesome, strange gadgets at your disposal - at the hefty price of a 12-point preparedness spend... Obviously, this level of detail also extends to weaponry, which is not only listed by special OPs forces that employ them, but which now benefits from new uses and cherries as well.
Thriller contest rules have been a crucial part of Night's Black Agent's appeal for a more action-driven gameplay style and indeed, the rules receive some utterly non-optional expansions: Beyond digital intrusion, infiltration, surveillance and manhunts all receive extensive supplemental rules to make them more exciting - this chapter alone is so compelling, I'd never want to miss it in any of my NBA-games...and yes, even when playing different games, a GM can still learn quite a bit here.
Where the player-section of this book was focused primarily on expanding the options and further streamlining the suspense-factor, the director's companion chapter can be considered to be all about utility: Need some sample NPCs that don't necessarily feature in the main-plot? The significant array of Cameo-stats for mechanics, superintendents and the like has you covered - and it hilariously includes a goth in love with the dread vampire predator. Nice, winking nod towards one of my subculture's obsessions and how that would pan out in Night's Black Agent's world.... Beyond these people, ready-made establishing shots of various places, sporting enough details for compelling narratives, can be considered another godsend for the director whose agents have once again gone off script.
Among the new options for the agent's monstrous adversaries, manipulating blood to create servitors, cursing them and Chupa, Ekimmu, Homunculus, Penanggalan and Nosferatu stats have you covered with more unique vampiric adversaries. Speaking of which - now directors can utilize the pyramidal structure of the Conspyramid to chart out means by which the conspiracy may be torn asunder - the suspicions-pyramid, or suspyramid, helps in that regard and is an apt planning tool. Particularly fond and a high note for an already excellent book, would be the advice given regarding variant eras - should you choose to, you can chart out storylines detailed the struggles of generations of agents against the dread conspiracy, including relevant rules for social class, telegraphy and the like...and rules for old agents up for one final stab at the nebulous masters...
The book ends with handy summaries of cherries, combat rules, vampire powers etc., all available in a very user-friendly manner, as well as with a massive and very useful index.
Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed not a single glitch. Layout adheres to Night's Black Agent's 3-column b/w-standard and the artwork utilized is original and generally, high-quality and evocative. The electronic version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience, while the softcover print version features high-quality, glossy paper and leaves nothing to be desired regarding the quality - and it better not, for this book will see A LOT of use.
All right, if you've been following my reviews, you'll have noted that I pretty much spoiled the review from the get-go: Mentioning this book in the same breath as the Advanced Player's Guide and 13 True Ways should tell you something about it: Namely that this book is, what I'd call the "unique identity marker." Don't get me wrong, Night's Black Agent's core book is an absolutely excellent tome that deserves all the praise I heaped on it. At the same time, though, it is still very much obviously a GUMSHOE-book and as such, offers a playing experience that may deviate from Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, etc., but at the same time, there are parallels you can utilize. When adding "Double Tap" to the fray, the unique components of Night's Black Agent's are not only expanded, they are amplified - significantly. And best of all, for the better. For even in a game that blends multiple GUMSHOE-games, you can still make this the representation of the step up to hyper-pro mode. Basically, this book makes everything more exciting and versatile for the players and at the same time, it helps the directors out there manage what's important with its extremely useful cameos and set-piece establishing shots.
If the above accumulation of basically unfiltered praise was not ample clue for you: This may very well be the best GUMSHOE rules book I've read so far. It succeeds also absolutely perfectly at making Night's Black Agents run more smoothly - the fast-paced infiltration rules, the nice nods regarding digital intrusion, the rules that run the gamut from realistic grit to high-octane action - all of these conspire to make this book a non-optional purchase for a GUMSHOE-system if there ever was one. I fact, if you liked the rules of Night's Black Agents and scavenged them, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same here - Double Tap is chock-full with pure excellence.
Kenneth Hite, John Adamus, Will Hindmarck, Kevin Kulp, Christian Lindke, James Palmer, Will Plant, Rob Wieland, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan - gentlemen, you have created a truly astounding, must-have book that has to be considered non-optional for Night's Black Agents and extremely rewarding for GUMSHOE beyond that. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.