ZQ: Near-fiasco in the House of Ashes

I ran the first half of Out of the House of Ashes yesterday for some different players from my usual batch. I'd run some 13th Age for them before, but they were unfamiliar with GUMSHOE, and they hadn't seen me running in full espionage mode before.

It would seem Out of the House of Ashes has somewhat overwhelmed them as a first entry into the world of Night's Black Agents. Pretty much everyone eschewed pre-gens to make their own characters.

Erik played Boris, a former FSB hacker/wire rat. He used a cover identity as a security company technician to subvert security systems and communications in both the Vienna International Centre and the Europa Hotel, but then kept his distance to monitor everything digitally. He actually did pretty well in his role.

James played Michael, a former MI-5 field agent who made contact with his old friend Albert Carpenter of the Vienna station. I ran Carpenter straight as a weary local chief who didn't want trouble. He warned Michael not to interfere with the CIA's move on Shevrenko. For his part, Michael just gathered intel and supported his team.

My old friend Suresh, who in the past has been a wild card known for ruining his group's plans, played Howard, an ex-Blackwater heavy hitter with some useful pickpocketing skills. To my surprise, he was pretty calm and calculated this time, but he didn't help the newbies with any useful advice - he just stood back and watched the mistakes happen.

Edmund played Noah, a former Vatican intelligence agent with stealth skills. He vastly overestimated what he could accomplish - twice. Once when he tried to coerce the heart doctor into betraying Shevrenko by force, which backfired when the doctor panicked, and again when he tried to plant a bug on Simon Thonradel during the CIA extraction and failed. Both times he ended up fleeing in a hurry - in the second case, by being flung 50m into the Danube by Thonradel, which left him at -10 health.

The extraction scene ended with Thonradel fleeing the scene after Howard blew up the ambulance with a grenade. Shevrenko remained in the hands of the FSB. James recovered a comatose Noah from the river. Howard buried himself in the hotel stables to escape capture with an extremely high Conceal result.

Now the team of agents is licking its wounds and trying to figure out its next move. Heat in Vienna has risen to 10 as a result of the actions taken in the session.

I suspect I'll continue this adventure on Saturday afternoon. Man, I hope certain players learn their lesson and actually consult with each other before pulling stupid stunts...


  • I think the key thing is whether your players had fun or not. Sometimes its more fun to go with the flow then to follow the script.

    Just my 2 pesos.
  • Sounds like a great time! During Noah's flights, did you use the Thriler Chase mechanics--or any of the other 'Thriller' options from Double Tap (thriller Hack, Thriller Surveillance, etc.)? I would be interested to hear how those went if so.
  • No, there weren't any actual chases in the two situations. In the first, Noah abandoned his foolhardy plan with enough time to slip out off the roof of the townhouse to the next building before the doctor could talk to the FSB, so nobody caught sight of him. In the other, Noah was flung by tactile telekinesis out of the hotel compound, and Thonradel was the one who opted to get away when hordes of police and SWAT showed up.

    We're just using the core book rules for now; I don't want to try piling on too many rules with these newbies.
  • Anyway, everyone had fun, even the guy who needs to play a replacement character while Noah recovers in traction, so we're continuing this Saturday.
  • I often wished that my players would be a bit more like that. They are all veterans with 15+ years of rpg under their belts and tend to discuss every angle of everything before making a decision. I guess when you get older, you just get more careful. But I sometimes miss the foolhardy, hotheaded characters who act with this glorious stupidity that makes stories about humans interesting...
  • Hah, I wish I had your players, because mine are the exact opposite - over talking every decision and then, for the most part deciding not to act:
    Staking out the Doctors surgery, but not confounding the Doctor
    Getting into the conference, but when Shevlenko goes to the reception, deciding to go back to their hotel
    I'd steered one of them to choosing Albert Carpenter as a handler, soil got him at least to watch the botched extraction, but he chose not to follow the van load of bodies
    Albert phones them with the location of the CIA cleaner, but they decide not to follow that up for fear of upsetting the CIA
    In the end of the most recent session I just had the Litski Bratva do a drive-by shooting from the PCs hire car just to see if I could stir them into action
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