I’ve written before about Night’s Black Agents (NBA), and what a great game it is. One of the coolest things about the game is how it gives a GM the tools to develop a conspiracy that the players can unravel.
I’ve recently been given a chance to start a new game with a new group of gamers, and they all voted to play an espionage game. We’re talking about super-spies, here, so it’s not going to be terribly realistic.
To that end, I was a big fan of the Shadowforce Archer (SFA) setting that was published by AEG back in the early 2000s. It was really creative, it was fun, and it was filled with great hooks for action-espionage adventures.
But there’s so much stuff in the SFA setting, it can get overwhelming. Especially since almost everything is linked to everything else. So for this campaign, I needed a tool to help me take out the bits and pieces of SFA I wanted to be at the forefront, and help me visually link all those elements to help run the game.
Enter the Conspyramid from Night’s Black Agents.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS ABOUND
If you don’t want to know stuff about the Shadowforce Archer setting, or you’re one of my players and don’t want secrets spoiled, don’t read any further.
PDFs of the entire Shadowforce Archer line are still available on DriveThruRPG from Crafty Games, so if this ends up generating interest in the setting, you can still pick it up. There’s a bundle that contains the complete line that is actually pretty reasonably priced, considering what you get.
What I’ve done here is take the Conspyramid from NBA and apply it to my upcoming Shadowforce Archer campaign. Now, in the Shadowforce Archer setting, there is a massive, global conspiracy of espionage agencies that work together (mostly) to protect the world from major threats. The conspiracy has been broken up into Chambers, each responsible for a particular region of the world. And each Chamber’s methods reflect a particular type of action-espionage game the players might want to play.
The Chambers and their regional and play focus are:
- Archer Foundation: Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific; Cold War spy intrigue
- African Alliance: Africa; Bold and beautiful super-spies like James Bond
- Company: North and South America; Military spy tactics like G.I. Joe or Nick Fury
- European Commonwealth: Europe; Taught thriller action
- Guardians of the Whispering Knife: the Middle East; Exotic, mystical and mysterious like Elektra
- Pan-Asian Collective: Asia; Over-the-top anime style martial arts action
- Room 39: the United Kingdom; Techno-thriller
- Russian Confederacy: Russia; Dark and gritty antiheroes
Note that these Chambers pull people from all the individual espionage organizations that can be found in the various countries that make up each region. So this set-up was designs to facilitate different types of play in the same setting. But, for my campaign, I don’t need 8 different “good” espionage groups. Rather, I’d prefer 8 different villainous espionage conspiracies.
So, in order to facilitate play for my game, I’ve made one big change to the setting: the Conspiracy in which these superspy agencies work together doesn’t exist. The various Chambers from SFA do exist, but they are set up as individual villainous conspiracies that work to their own ends. This gives me a whole host of villains to use against the characters.
Surprisingly, this really didn’t require much work on my part – much of what makes these organizations “heroic” is the approach they take to achieving their goals. Alter that slightly, and it changes the tone of each of those organizations drastically.
The characters in this campaign are going to be full-time employees of a secretive group based deep in the United Nations, called UNION (United National Intelligence and Operations Network, which is an organization I created for a d20 Modern sourcebook I published more than a decade ago). They take on global conspiracies that are too big for any single intelligence organization to handle (which should give the game a nice Mission: Impossible feel).
Now, I’ve decided to start with a small conspiracy to get things moving, and to give the players time to get into their characters and the game. I’m still working on that smaller conspiracy—which uses a Threat from one of the SFA books—but I have already worked out the larger conspiracy that I want to use for the main part of the campaign.
I decided to start with The Shop as the major villain organization for the initial conspiracy to take down. It has its own dedicated book, and there is a great deal of information in all the other chamber books that mean there isn’t a ton of work I need to do to put it into the Conspyramid.
Note: All of the following material needs the actual Shadowforce Archer books to make full use of it. If you’re not familiar at all with the setting, you may have trouble making sense of this stuff.
So here’s my Conspyramid.
I’ll start at the top and work my way down.
Level 6: Core Leadership
The Plan: As noted in The Shop book (p. 35), The Plan is how people in the organization refer to the 8-member council that runs the conspiracy. These people are all psions, and they are all under the control of the Psion Imperative. I’ve decided that the Psion Imperative is like an almost-sentient virus that wants to replicate itself. Ultimately, it wants to forcibly evolve humans until they can carry all three strains of the psion formula, which would be the point at which the Psion Imperative would become a fully-sentient, hive-like being.
Level 5: Supranational
Dennis Gray: Dennis (Shadowforce Archer Worldbook, p. 159) is in charge of the operational arm of the Shop. He has not been infected by any of the psion strains, and is focused on managing the organization so that they continue to keep their technological edge over their adversaries.
Villain X: Technically, Villain X (The Shop Threat Book, p. 58) is listed as currently being subordinate to Dennis Gray. In my Conspyramid, I’ve put him as one of the top two people in the organization, as he is the top leader for missions in the field (as opposed to Dennis Gray’s control from the shadows).
Level 4 and below
Level 4 of the conspiracy is where the three main activities of the organization are managed, and these run down through the lower levels in three main “threads.”
Samantha Abbot (Shadowforce Archer Worldbook, p. 244) is responsible for counter-espionage and the compromising of agents from other organizations. She oversees Romeo Amatee’s brainwashing program, which operates through Club Demetrian (Archer Foundation Chamber Book, p. 121), an exclusive resort for the wealthy and connected. She has a number of assets embedded in national espionage agencies around the world, and she manages them through Michael Bobal (my own creation), a former CIA handler. Orianne Rose (my own creation), a psychiatrist, is always on call to talk compromised agents through any difficulties they may have due to side-effects of the brainwashing process.
Michael Bobal gives missions to Robert Malone (Archer Foundation Chamber Book, p. 123), Viktoria Geier (my own creation), and Gabriel Kidd (my own creation) based on whatever the Shop needs at any given time. Bobal has other turned agents in other espionage organizations around the world who have been through the Club Demetrian brainwashing program, so I can come up with anyone I need in any organization based on where the PCs go.
The second main thread goes through Scott Swanson (The Shop Threat Book, p. 100), who is based on the Leviathan (The Shop Threat Book, p. 111). He organizes strikes against Shop enemies, as well as the collection of technology the Shop wants to reverse-engineer. Kryptos (Shadowforce Archer Worldbook, p. 245) reports directly to Swanson and handles the technical aspects of the operations, using Bobal to coordinate the Shop strike teams, or Strik-9 (Shadowforce Archer Worldbook, p. 245) for assassination jobs.
The last main thread goes through Raymond Bullock (The Shop Threat Book, p. 148), who is based on the Overwatch space station. (I know that in the official setting, Overwatch belongs to the Archer Foundation, but I think it works better if I put it in the hands of the Shop.) Sebastian Noir (The Shop Threat Book, p. 109) organizes all shipments of supplies to the station from his base in the Grecian Alps.
Sylviane Boucher (my creation) is responsible for the development and testing of new Psi-tech devices, and so works under both Scott Swanson and Raymond Bullock. She coordinates with the Parisian Institute (The Shop Threat Book, p. 40), where most of the R&D work gets done before the prototypes are shipped to the Barcelona testing facility (my creation) where it gets distributed to field teams for final in-field testing before full deployment. This testing facility has brought the Shop into conflict with the Hernandez family (The Shop Threat Book, p. 46) in Spain, another potential point of contact for the agents.
The Barcelona testing facility also coordinates strikes by Blade Hawk teams against Shop enemies.
How will the agents get involved?
The plan is to start this part of the campaign with the agents hired to look into Robert Malone, who is supposed to be a retired agent, but has been caught on surveillance footage leading a merc team in a strike against one of the facilities where the Hernandez family has a major criminal operation (e.g. a drug packaging and distribution facility).
This will give the agents a couple of threads to pull.
One, Robert Malone is having difficulties due to the brainwashing, and he’s getting increasingly paranoid and violent. He’s been talking to Orianne Rose over the phone every couple of days, and she even flew into Barcelona about a week ago to spend the weekend with Malone to help him work on regaining control of himself.
Two, Malone is engaged in an operation against the Hernandez family in Barcelona. At this point, he’s being kept at arms-length by the Shop. He doesn’t actually know that’s who he’s working for. If the agents make contact with any people from the Hernandez’ organization, they can discover that some other organization has moved into this territory and started muscling in on criminal activities. And this other organization has weapons and other tech that’s a cut above what’s normally available.
From there, I expect they’ll track Malone back to Orianne Rose (and probably Michael Bobal). Alternately, they may find themselves helping out the Hernandez family against Shop strike teams, which should lead them back to the Barcelona Testing Facility.
Either way, they’ll have a route up to level 2 of the conspiracy, which provides all kinds of opportunities.
Also note that there are a number of other named Shop agents in The Shop Threat Book, but I’m holding them in reserve to drop them in when and where I need them to either provide more of a challenge if things are going too easy, or as ways to drop more clues for the agents to find if they need the help.
The Conspyramid from Night’s Black Agents is a fantastic tool for designing a conspiracy in an espionage campaign. And it doesn’t even have to involve vampires, though it’s great for that as well. Even if you don’t run an NBA game, there’s so much useful material there for espionage campaigns that it’s worth picking up regardless.