RPPR Episode 97: Tribes of Tokyo Post-Mortem

Vampires are deadly, but can they survive an entire group of player characters?Thanks to Crazon for the art!

Synopsis: After the conclusion of our Night’s Black Agents campaign, Tribes of Tokyo, we sat down to discuss what went right and what went wrong. I talk about my inspiration for the campaign, including the Long Vaults. Caleb, Aaron, and Tom describe their experiences playing the game, including their critique of Night’s Black Agents as a game.

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  1. Sorry to hear that Jason didn’t enjoy the campaign much. I did really like his yakuza character.

  2. David was the yakuza! Jason was, like…multicultural American guy or something. I’m not actually sure…what he did. I think he spoke a lot of languages.

    goddamn that was some good system selling from Caleb and Aaron. I’ve been real bleh about Gumshoe ever since I heard about it, listened to an entire campaign in it and only really understood wtf it was about…now. I still think it creates some notfun stress for the players–more or less, I suppose, depending on how clear the GM’s pacing is–but that does make its -reason for being- a lot clearer’n I’ve ever found it. the “mimicking an actual plot structure” argument.

    I thought you did a real good job with Tokyo as a setting, Ross. I’m a China fan which means…hate…the fuck…out of Japan for their version of holocaust denial (omg google Japanese WW2 holdouts if you want some serious cultural nightmare fuel, motherfuckers hanging out murdering Filipinos for -decades- after the war hailed as heroes when they finally came home), but I felt like it was neither intrusive nor underused. there were a few moments when it stood out as being distinctly Tokyo-ish.

    putting in a +1 for Caleb’s next game being his Night’s Black Agents. a tenblock conspyramid? color coded? neeeeed.

  3. Tokyo came alive very well in the campaign. I too am unsure of the Gumshoe mechanics, but it was a fun campaign. Now that everyone’s gotten it under their belts, I look forward to see what they’ll play next time.

  4. I know I’m not the only one, but I love this behind the scenes stuff! In this instance, I enjoyed it more than the actual play.

    You guys have to write and play a brilliant Delta Green scenario based off the movie “Airborne” on Netflix? Have you seen it, Ross?

    I was watching it with my wife, and remarked, “Oh, this is totally an RPG … Delta Green.”

    Her eyes were rolling well before I mentioned having to tell RPPR about it.

  5. I wish I could’ve taken part in this discussion because I really disliked Night’s Black Agents. Ross did a great job describing the setting and making Tokyo come to life, but I felt detached from this campaign for two reasons. I thought the plot was a little overly complex and unwieldy from a player’s standpoint. On the one hand, I liked that the vampires were depicted as extraordinarily powerful and monstrous. On the other hand, good god, they were extraordinarily powerful! I mean wow! Not even fledgling vampires could be dispatched easily, especially given the skill sets of our characters, which brings me to my second point. I wanted to essentially play the faceman, a jack of all trades, but I lost interest very quickly due to how limiting I found the system. The way I came to understand Night’s Black Agents is that the player has to gamble his or her skill points each time they come into play. If players spend too many skill points, then the next time those skills are required, the players will be at a severe disadvantage…as if they somehow lost their expertise or forgot how to pick a lock or punch a guy. If players spend too few skill points, then they risk not being able to perform the task at hand. Considering the stakes we were presented with, I found myself tapped very quickly for the majority of the game, and thus, I lost interest. I stopped caring about the elaborate descriptions and interwoven details because I wanted to get the plot moving.

    Tom and I discussed part of the problem being we never truly felt connected to our characters, and that is somewhat true. In previous campaigns, we would write up a back story for each of our characters and be given quite a bit of autonomy in character creation. In this campaign, however, we were limited at the beginning. We knew it was set in Tokyo, and we had to choose from a certain number of character backgrounds. I chose the foreigner because I am not as familiar with Tokyo as others might be. Heck, even Tom’s character was more concerned with the Western world despite being born there.

    I had a similar problem at the beginning of the Know Evil campaign. I didn’t know the system or the rich history of Eclipse Phase. However, unlike with Tribes of Tokyo, I drafted an origin from which Caleb and I could ground Gerard. It took me some time to care about him since I just saw Gerard as a stereotypical gun-wielding ex-military guy, but once I got a handle on the system and the various factions, I understood him and empathized with his plight. I ended up really liking Eclipse Phase all around. The mechanics were similar enough to CoC to be manageable, and yet it was unique in terms of how one could specialize and create an individual character. But this never happened with Tribes of Tokyo or more specifically, Night’s Black Agents. And I don’t fault Ross for it. I honestly think he did an admirable job with the campaign. I just feel the mechanics for the gumshoe system are severely lacking. Sure every RPG has a fair bit of luck to it, but this system adds a whole new level of gambling to the dice rolling mechanic.

    I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but damn I really hated the system and told the guys I would opt out of any future gumshoe games. Of course, then I moved away for a job, so I guess it all worked out. 😉 I miss you guys!

  6. This was really cool to listen to. It’s always interesting to hear different people share what they liked and what didn’t work for them about a campaign and system and you guys were well-spoken as always.

    A few thoughts:

    I really like Gumshoe as a system, but I think it throws people because it’s quite a bit more crunchy than it first appears, and Night’s Black Agents is the crunchiest of the Gumshoe games I’ve read. Even Trail of Cthulhu is quite a bit more complex than CoC.

    I would think for the people who don’t like spending points, just … don’t, most of the time, then you are on the same footing as D&D or CoC where you’re trusting the dice. As someone who rolls pretty badly with d20, I love the idea of managing your resources throughout the game. And I think it makes for good dramatic/narrative play. I am sorry that it wasn’t really fun for Tom and Jason during play, but I enjoyed it a lot when you had to coordinate – who’s going to do the get-away chase? Aaron doesn’t have Driving points left and Tom does, but Tom’s character is high right now… good stuff.

    System-wise, did anyone use an MOS? I don’t remember it – from what I remember it’s an automatic success on a general skill once per game. It seemed like another way to offset the point spends and to have one part of a plan that you absolutely know will work.

    This was a really ambitious game on Ross’ part, You started with a foreign culture, added in the spies/criminal underworld, then the vampires on top of that, and then finally the time travel element. I think you did quite well overall – especially in creating a version of Tokyo that felt like Tokyo and felt like a busy, dynamic place.

    I would’ve loved to see more of the vampires and what they were up to, but the PCs were understandably wary.

    I also think Ross’ comment about RPGs being improv theater – and thus every GM wanting a do-over or a practice run sometimes – is pretty universal.

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