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Campaign Creation => Campaign Elements and Design => Topic started by: Rhamnousia on September 13, 2012, 05:29:57 AM



Title: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 13, 2012, 05:29:57 AM

Out of Character

Yeah, yeah, I know, I already have two other topics at the top of this forum, but while I was trying to come up with martial arts styles, this just hit me and I wanted to get it up where someone could see it before it all got buried in my hard drive.

I'm envisioning this running on a slightly-modified version of Night's Black Agents, which itself uses the GUMSHOE system. The Storyteller system might work as well, but probably more for less action-oriented games.

Some of the more obvious inspirations are Night's Black Agents, Men in Black, The Laundry series, HP Lovecraft and company, the World of Darkness, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and other le Carré novels, the Bourne series , and supernatural espionage novels like Tim Powers' Declare.

Hope you all enjoy. As always, comments, however brief, are appreciated.

The Black Chamber is an ultra-secretive intelligence agency run primarily by the United States but which also extends its tendrils into Great Britain and other NATO member nations. Its purview: occult intelligence, OCCINTEL, which encompasses the paranormal, supernatural, and extraterrestrial, the lines between the three often blurry.

Ostensibly aimed at protecting humanity (but mainly the West) from horrors and dangers most cannot imagine, but it often seeks to exploit those very same horrors whenever possible for use in its own games of espionage cat-and-mouse.

Officially, nobody knows about the Black Chamber. Not any head of state, not any general, not any chief of staff, not any head of the CIA or MI6. Nobody. Those who do discover it face one of three fates: conscription, brainwashing, or (quite often) assassination.

Headed by the Directors, none of whom have ever been seen in person and who may or may not even be human.

Chamber policy-makers appear to be totally unencumbered by concern for morality, ethics, the sanctity of human life, or any notions of fair play that extend beyond the shadowiest corner of the intelligence community.

Black Chamber agents are recruited from a variety of places: most have backgrounds in the CIA, FBI, NSA, armed forces, etc. A few of the oldest members even served in the OSS back during World War II, while some might’ve been approached civilians. There are rumors that the Chamber even extends offers to criminals facing heavy sentences.

Chamber employees (and associated personnel) essentially sign over their entire lives, giving up any rights to their own bodies, minds, and even souls. And no, their oaths aren’t necessarily terminated just because they are.

Agents are routinely subjected to all manner of dangerous, unethical, and/or experimental treatments and procedures to enhance their potential, with or without their knowledge or consent. Implantations, psychological reprogramming, transplants, injections, exotic chemotherapies, induced possession, and even stranger procedures are conducted by Chamber medics.

The Black Chamber makes use of strange technologies based on quasi-scientific principles, captured occult lore, and reverse-engineered artifacts. However, that kind of tech is expensive and finicky, so most agents go into the field armed most with mundane weapons and equipment.

Very cannibalistically, the Black Chamber has a nasty habit of trying to assassinate its own people under-the-table, often for suspect or unspecified reasons. Human agents are rarely used; inhuman entities or experimental “living weapons” are much more common. Surprisingly, a number of those who survive such attempts are allowed to carry on without any more official interference, raising the disturbing possibility that such actions are merely field tests or training exercises.

Chamber possesses a significant number of Nazi scientists and occultists acquired in the wake of World War II, most of who did not have to be too aggressively coerced into cooperating.

Black Chamber also employs a number of paranormal, supernatural, and extraterrestrial entities as “advisors” or, much more rarely because of their predictability, as field operatives.

Major facilities and bases are mostly located inside the United States and Great Britain, but the Black Chamber maintains numerous smaller safehouses throughout Europe, with a few also in Canada, Australia, and Japan.

Primary antagonist is the 17th Directorate, the USSR equivalent to the Black Chamber. They are, if such a thing is even possible, even more reckless, not to mention ruthless, than the Chamber itself. One of the major differences between the two agencies is the Directorate’s staunch atheism, which stands in strange contrast to their unhealthy fascination with apotheosis. While they lag behind in technology, they have access to more Old World occult. Many of their field operatives, especially paramilitary and post-human agents, wear distinctive, color-coded gas masks.

The Black Chamber also battles paranormal, supernatural, and extraterrestrial threats, especially those that analysts consider existential threats to the human race…or worse, to democracy.

Also on the Chamber’s rogue’s gallery are the so-called Illuminati: a blanket term referring to any human organization, institution, or cult that engages in OCCINTEL, typically unaffiliated with (and often hostile to) any quasi-national agency.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Steerpike on September 13, 2012, 01:10:37 PM
Sounds like fun.  How does the Black Chamber get funding?  If government high-ups don't know about them (I'm curious why you made that decision?) then how do they get the dough to buy the secret underground bunkers, containment facilities, occult tech, specialists etc etc that I can only imagine they must utilize?  Are they somehow stealing from defense budgets without anyone noticing?  I can't imagine private citizens could be involved - surely that would be a far larger security risk than letting those with top security clearance in government office in on things.  Presumably they're not hawking off occult artifacts and experimental tech - unless you go the hokey MiB/Transformers route and have regular technology be reverse-engineered alien stuff or whatnot.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Lmns Crn on September 14, 2012, 09:20:55 PM
I am so stoked about Night's Black Agents, you guys, you just have no idea. I've been following Ken Hite's interviews on the subject and it is all very intriguing!


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 17, 2012, 07:59:41 AM
Steerpike: I want to leave that intentionally vague. I came off a little too strong with the "Nobody knows about the Black Chamber". People know about it, but nobody really knows what it does: just that if they don't want unnamed horrors chewing up democracy and capitalism and everything they hold dear, they'll make sure there's an invisible clause in every appropriations bill and not ask too many questions when they come asking to borrow their toys. They also steal the majority of the weird tech they use, or get it in exchange for payments they'd rather not talk about.

LC: Oh my God, so am I! I was never the hugest fan of GUMSHOE until I snagged the [REDACTED] Edition and now I can't wait for the full one!


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: SA on September 22, 2012, 09:12:33 PM
The government talent pool seems like a natural mechanism for securing political influence without exposing the Chamber to the world: many recruits retain their official positions and perform only one or two specific tasks for the Chamber in addition to their standard duties, while their secrecy is secured through psychic blocks and geases. In this case the Black Chamber is diffused through official organisations - a kind of institutional 'possession' - rather than existing in parallel.

Do most Chamber agents know that they are agents? Were they offered a choice? Are some of them ghosts/zombies?

What specific kinds of paranormal/supernatural threats exist? Is this an "all-myths are true" situation, where operatives can expect to face vampires, werewolves, demons and cthulhus, or will the setting focus on more exotic and original threats? Is there a monolithic "Secret History of the World" that is revealed to new recruits in a 10-page primer or are all the weird phenomena disparate and unfamiliar? If human beings saw a paranormal phenomenon, would they believe it? (a common shortcut in 'secret world' design is to make the paranormal incomprehensible to mundanes) Is the Black Chamber younger than the (20th) century or older than the (second) millennium? How has the containment of unworldly threats been challenged by the proliferation of easy-access digital media?

Quite apart from the in-setting knowledge of the Directors' natures, do you know who and what they are? Are they willing comrades, reluctant allies, or fractious schemers bound by utmost necessity? Do they have ulterior designs beyond the defense of mundane reality? Would they rather destroy the Strange or control it? Do they have any idea what they're up against? Are they competent at all?


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 23, 2012, 01:21:58 AM

Exegesis

The government talent pool seems like a natural mechanism for securing political influence without exposing the Chamber to the world: many recruits retain their official positions and perform only one or two specific tasks for the Chamber in addition to their standard duties, while their secrecy is secured through psychic blocks and geases. In this case the Black Chamber is diffused through official organisations - a kind of institutional 'possession' - rather than existing in parallel.

Thanks, Exegesis! That is an amazing way of explaining how an organization like the Black Chamber manages to say a near-total secret, though I’m not quite sure if it’s one I’d adopt entirely.

What I think I’ll do is make it a two-tiered layout. At the first level, you have the sort of agents you described, ones who work for other branches of the government in addition to the Chamber. They have ‘handlers’ (who they may or may not ever meet in person) who show up irregularly to deliver them their orders: there is often little to no explanation or context given for the things they are asked to do. If they cooperate, they are given a bonus and their lives are made to run just a little bit smoother, if only for a moment. If they refuse or fail too dramatically, the best they can hope for is an intensive brainwashing instead of an untraceable death. If their handlers think they might have leaked any of the information they’ve been given, that threat extends to those closest to them. If these auxiliaries maintain a record of success, they can expect to be ‘promoted’ to the next tier, though it is something few would wish for if they knew what it entailed. At this level are your ‘career’ agents, those who’ve seen enough that they’re in it for life. Here you find the majority of the Chamber’s analysts, scientists, occultists, policy-makers, and veteran field assets. They’re a hard-bitten lot and all of them bear scars, physical and metal, from their experiences, not to mention the Chamber’s tinkering. The benefit is that they’re seen as significantly less disposable, though in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t amount to much. They can also count of much more backup, fancier toys to play with, and a more complete intel.

Exegesis

Do most Chamber agents know that they are agents? Were they offered a choice? Are some of them ghosts/zombies?

Yes, though they don’t always know just what it is that the Black Chamber does. While the initial offer of employment is always posed as a question, the reality of it is that once the Chamber headhunters approach a potential recruit, they rarely have much say in the matter. While such treatments are far too unsafe to apply to actual agents (yeah, let that sink in), the headhunters are fond of psycho-programming or geases that induce brain aneurisms or heart attacks if the subject mentions a certain word or phrase, something that they often bring up if the recruit seems reluctant to accept their offer. As such, those who do refuse to work for the Black Chamber rarely last very long.

And yes, the Chamber does employ zombies and ghosts, among others, but these aren’t really intended to be player characters. Written into every agent’s contract is the stipulation that their superiors have free reign to use their bodies and/or spirits after their deaths and yes, Chamber interrogators have discovered the means to effectively torture ghosts.

And because this is the early Cold War, the age of uninhibited scientific advancement, there’s a good chance of scientists engaging in breeding programs to hybridize humans with ghouls, Deep Ones, vampires, etc. and then raise the resulting offspring to be potential assets.

Exegesis

What specific kinds of paranormal/supernatural threats exist? Is this an "all-myths are true" situation, where operatives can expect to face vampires, werewolves, demons and cthulhus, or will the setting focus on more exotic and original threats? Is there a monolithic "Secret History of the World" that is revealed to new recruits in a 10-page primer or are all the weird phenomena disparate and unfamiliar? If human beings saw a paranormal phenomenon, would they believe it? (a common shortcut in 'secret world' design is to make the paranormal incomprehensible to mundanes) Is the Black Chamber younger than the (20th) century or older than the (second) millennium? How has the containment of unworldly threats been challenged by the proliferation of easy-access digital media?

Hm, that’s actually a question I’ve been struggling with. The Chamber deals with an enormous range of threats, so I’m uncertain how much detail I should go into on all of them. In broad strokes, the Chamber normally divides entities into one of three categories: PARA, SUPER, and EXTRA. You have entities that roughly fit the descriptions of vampires, werewolves, and other traditional monsters, though the specific details are often very different and almost never universal. There are aliens, which I’m envisioning as ancient astronauts-meets-H.P. Lovecraft, utilizing unimaginably-advanced sciences and otherworldly sorcery more than just straight sci-fi. My aim is to make even seemingly-cliché threats more unique and exotic; I’m just not sure where to start. While Chamber agents are given dossiers on the threats they are expected to face, how they all fit into some larger picture is something that not even the analysts have entirely worked-out, and it is not uncommon for this information to be paradoxical or contradictory.

The Black Chamber was officially founded sometime around the First World War, didn’t really metastasize into the organization it is today until the start of the Cold War, but has its roots in purloined occultism and secret societies going back much further. It didn’t so much grow out of these groups as the founders ruthlessly cannibalized them, along with any other scraps they could get their hands on. Following World War II, with the huge influx of occult and scientific research following the fall of the Third Reich, the Chamber’s knowledge and capabilities grew exponentially; it was also around this time that its policies took a much more ambiguous tone.

And I can’t believe I didn’t mention this: the setting is the early 60’s, so information technology isn’t anything remotely approaching what it is today.

Exegesis

Quite apart from the in-setting knowledge of the Directors' natures, do you know who and what they are? Are they willing comrades, reluctant allies, or fractious schemers bound by utmost necessity? Do they have ulterior designs beyond the defense of mundane reality? Would they rather destroy the Strange or control it? Do they have any idea what they're up against? Are they competent at all?

Sort of. They’re all human, or they once were. They maintain a sense of civility amongst themselves, but they each have their own plans and agendas. They know what they’re up against, at least in a broad sense. They do not so much wish to defend reality as they aim to protect their little corner of it: if they thought they could contain an incursion that left the Warsaw Pact a swirling, shrieking hellscape and devoured the minds of every one of Chairman Mao’s subjects, they’d hardly seek to contain it. As it currently stands though, such apocalyptic events don’t differentiate between East and West. If they can capture, salvage, or reverse-engineer some occult artifact or alien technourgy, they will, both for use against other supernatural threats and their opposite-numbers on the other side of the Iron Curtain. That’s one of the pettiest aspects of the Black Chamber: their policy is to go to great lengths to sabotage and undercut their rivals, especially the 17th Directorate, even if limited cooperation or just a ceasefire would be the better plan.

That answer your questions?


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: SA on September 23, 2012, 03:00:55 AM
Yup. And it's prompted more.

How much latitude can player characters expect when executing their superiors' directives? In metagame terms, how free are the players to dictate the course of mission-based objectives? How high/low in the Black Chamber hierarchy can PCs expect to progress? What is the life-expectancy of the average career agent? What about field agents? How often are they or their loved ones threatened when they are not actively pursuing the Black Chamber's agenda? Do agents develop a meaningful community from which they can draw a sense of camaraderie and reward?

Does the Black Chamber itself (specifically the Directors) uphold Western capitalist principles, or is its opposition to communism purely an accident of geography? Are there any Illuminati with influence approaching that of the Chamber or the 17th Directorate?

Is there a "most common" kind of P/S/E phenomenon that serves as a prolific and recurring threat? If P/S/E threats have existed for millennia, how did humanity combat/contain/placate the more pernicious instances (cthulhus; ancient astronauts) before the advent of modern technology?

Where does the name "Black Chamber" come from? Is it an actual chamber?

If so, what's in it?


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 23, 2012, 04:40:01 AM

Exegesis

How much latitude can player characters expect when executing their superiors' directives? In metagame terms, how free are the players to dictate the course of mission-based objectives? How high/low in the Black Chamber hierarchy can PCs expect to progress?

Career agents are given significant latitude in completing their missions. Directives usually take the form of simple commands, so as long as the agents stay within the general parameters (e.g. limiting collateral damage, avoiding witnesses, not identifying themselves as Westerners), the higher-ups rarely bother to micromanage. However, if they make a critical failure, such as sparing a target they were supposed to assassinate or causing a public spectacle, then the Chamber is all too happy to get involved.

I’m envisioning player progress stopping somewhere just below the Deputy Directors; they’d have subordinates, but not calling the shots in a broad, long-term way.

Exegesis

What is the life-expectancy of the average career agent? What about field agents?

Career agents actually have fairly long life-expectancies, provided they don’t to anything to get themselves marked for liquidation. The Black Chamber sees every asset, every additional person who must know of its existence, who’ve received their enhancements, as an investment, so they don’t want them dying before they’ve reaped the benefits. While they may get to reanimate an agent’s corpse and harvest their ghost for ectoplasm, neither is as useful to the Directors as a living, breathing agent. With access to bleeding-edge technologies and all sorts of strange magics, it’s possible for agents to recover from otherwise-fatal injuries after weeks, even days, of intensive treatment. When the Chamber wants you alive, they’ll keep you alive. In-office rumors circulate about agent’s who’ve been immolated, dismembered, or decapitated…only to be seen again with no visible injuries. Of course, such experimental treatments come with a price: agents have been known to develop exotic cancers and alien maladies, but far more common side-effects are the psychological disorders. Dying is, after all, an extremely traumatic experience. Affiliated personnel, well, they’re rarely as lucky.

Exegesis

How often are they or their loved ones threatened when they are not actively pursuing the Black Chamber's agenda? Do agents develop a meaningful community from which they can draw a sense of camaraderie and reward?

By the Chamber itself, not often. Studies have shown that the effectiveness of threatening assets or their loved ones exponentially decreases after the first instance. Just knowing what the agency is capable of is usually more than enough to squash any thoughts of defecting or going public.

Of course, if the agents make a personal enemy in the Directorate, they may find themselves threatened by them or their proxy agencies. The 17th Directorate shows even less concern for human life than the Black Chamber, if such a thing is possible, so while assassinations on the Chamber’s home turf may be rare, they are always serious.

The most imminent threat is from the entities the Chamber combats and/or exploits. While agents are encouraged to maintain a family to create a semblance of normality and foster a healthy mental state, they are also warned that, should their extra-normal enemies discover them, their spouses, friends, and children can and will be used against them. And, should they be compromised, they are a mess the agents are expected to clean up themselves.

There is a thriving, if paranoid and macabre, office culture within the Black Chamber. It’s a mix of patriotism, professional pride, and ‘us against the world’ brotherhood. They have their own slang and jargon (which I still have to develop). In the event of an agent’s death or transmutation, his or her fellows will often take care of any surviving loved ones. Chamber policy indirectly encourages this behavior, of only because marrying your best friend’s widow limits the likelihood of a leak.

Exegesis

Does the Black Chamber itself (specifically the Directors) uphold Western capitalist principles, or is its opposition to communism purely an accident of geography?

That varies from Director to Director, but their subordinates get the impression that they cling to democracy and capitalism as broad cultural memes rather than their underlying principles: e.g. the Directors’ apparent disregard for civil liberties, personal freedom, human dignity, etc. The West is their base of power; to lose that, or to see it fall under an oppressive regime they have influence in, is simply unacceptable. Part of it is also driven by apparently-personal grudges against the equally-shadowy leaders of their Communist opposites.

The rest to come soon (as they require a lot more thought put into them) and I might flesh some of these out more later.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: SA on September 23, 2012, 05:30:55 AM
Some substantial and compelling responses. The more I read the more I want to see.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 23, 2012, 01:54:14 PM

Exegesis

Are there any Illuminati with influence approaching that of the Chamber or the 17th Directorate?

After they uncovered evidence that several Illuminati groups had manipulated both the Axis and Allied Powers with the intent of causing an apocalyptic war, the Black Chamber spearheaded an enormous purge of the United States government. Under the pretext of fighting Communist infiltration, suspected Illuminati were rounded up, taken to secret detention facilities in the Northwestern US, interrogated using the most cutting-edge techniques, and summarily liquidated.
While the Illuminati cannot hope to match any of the governmental agencies in terms of raw funding, logistics, or manpower, they are still a serious threat. They are more agile, streamlined, their leadership often decentralized to the point that it is impossible to ‘pull them up by the root’ and destroy them wholesale. While the sheer variety of occult they have access to often pale in comparison to the Chamber or Directorate, they usually possess a much better understanding of what they’re working with, In modern times, most maintain the façade of an exclusive political party, fraternity, corporation, religious movement, think tank, etc.

Sometime soon, I’ll give a more complete breakdown for them, but here’s a few of possible names to whet your appetite: the Bavarian Philosophers, the Tūllab, the Thulist Catholic Church, the Underhill Institute, the Argentinian Expats.

And as an aside here, I’m thinking there’d be more than just the Black Chamber and the 17th Directorate. Maoist China’s definitely got an agency of its own, probably with a disproportionately-heavy emphasis on collective-psionics and gestalt phenomena, as well as a total rejection of anything ‘traditional’. Japan and Israel probably have their own agencies as well, both nominal allies of the Black Chamber, though this partnership is a perpetually-strained one.

Exegesis

If P/S/E threats have existed for millennia, how did humanity combat/contain/placate the more pernicious instances (cthulhus; ancient astronauts) before the advent of modern technology?

There have been organizations like the Black Chamber throughout human history, though they were usually far more limited in range and capability. There are records in the Chamber archives to suggest that at the height of its expansion, Rome had a special wing of its Legion devoted to waging invisible war against the unnatural forces it encountered; this includes the various pseudo-human cultures described in classical bestiaries, such as the Cynocephali and Anthropophagi. Most great empires that came after had similar secret organizations. Like their ultimate successors, they often utilized the occult as a weapon against the occult, though usually in a far more limited way. The ugly truth of pre-modern OCCINTEL was that entities that they could not destroy outright were either offered some sort of appeasement or simply avoided altogether. These societies were (obviously) successful at keeping humanity as a whole from being wiped out: what really sets the Black Chamber and its ilk apart is the extent to which they exploit and reverse-engineer the occult for their own purposes.

Exegesis

Where does the name "Black Chamber" come from? Is it an actual chamber?

If so, what's in it?

Haha, I’m glad my idea-poaching isn’t as obvious as I’d feared it would be.

I got the name Black Chamber from The Laundry Files, where it’s the ultra-shady, morally-bankrupt American antagonist to the plucky, extraordinarily-British Laundry. In turn, Charles Stross borrowed the nickname of a defunct WWI-era intelligence service, the Cipher Bureau. The French term cabinet noir refers to an office where intercepted mail is read, which I think is a totally mundane agenda for any group with such a menacing name.

But now you’ve got me thinking. Maybe there is an actual ‘Black Chamber’ hidden in the labyrinthine bowels of Washington DC, an invisible room built with strange geometries. Maybe it’s where the Directors or their proxies gather. I’ll have to give the idea more thought.

I'm still working on your last question.

I was also curious if you had any questions/comments about the sort of experiments and procedures the Chamber conducts on its agents. While the mention was brief, I'm planning on it being a fairly important aspect of the setting. In metagame terms, they'd both provide characters with limited supernatural powers and provide an explanation for abilities well in excess of human norms. Think Jason Bourne on vampire blood.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: LD on September 23, 2012, 02:42:26 PM

Quote

The Black Chamber also battles paranormal, supernatural, and extraterrestrial threats, especially those that analysts consider existential threats to the human race…or worse, to democracy.
I'd be interested in hearing more about any sub-groups or specializations in the Black Chamber, if you're looking for something else to write about it.

Quote

Of course, such experimental treatments come with a price: agents have been known to develop exotic cancers and alien maladies, but far more common side-effects are the psychological disorders.
That's a cute detail.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: SA on September 23, 2012, 10:20:24 PM
When an agent is resurrected, do they remember being dead (as distinct from the dying process)? Are there any significant advantages/disadvantages to experiencing death? Can a person be brought back to life after their soul has been tortured? If so, does it change them in horrifying ways? Does liquidation refer to ectoplasmic harvest?

Does the Chamber ever use children or the mentally infirm? If so, to what end? Does it ever recruit from the Illuminati? What special toys did the Nazi scientists bring to the table? Do any of them have divided allegiances?

Even though the Chamber doesn't use psycho-programming to ensure agent secrecy (so you claim), what kinds of psycho-programming might they apply to agents? Do agents get to choose how/when they are "enhanced"? Do such enhancements make them more/less subject to P/S/E attention? Do any of these enhancements have minds of their own? Do these enhancements ever "accidentally" transform agents into monsters? Are potential risks disclosed beforehand? How does an enhanced agent measure up against a typical P/S/E threat, mano-a-mano?

How does the Chamber keep surveillance on its agents? Who watches the watchers?

Are there any ancient pseudo-human cultures at large today? How has the P/S/E rogues gallery (particularly the cthulhus, and deities if they exist) responded to the advent of atomic power? Are any of them taking concrete steps to prevent/instigate nuclear war?

Is a Black Chamber contract written on A) paper B) stone C) human skin D) the agent's own soul? Is it a spiritually binding contract or simply a formality? Are there any P/S/E entities that recognise the legitimacy of such a contract?

Have there been any profound cosmological revelations in the past 60 years?


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 23, 2012, 10:35:09 PM
I'll answer all of them when I can get to a computer , but damn, Exegesis, you know exactly the right sort of questions to ask.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: SA on September 23, 2012, 10:41:43 PM
Glad they're of use.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 23, 2012, 10:43:00 PM
Also, for the sake of brevity and because P/S/E would be incredibly clunky to say, the Chamber uses the term ENE (extra-normal entity) as the broadest possible term for all PARA, SUPER, and EXTRA they encounter. In-office terms include Strangers, Outsiders, Others, Ennie (used as a name, a la 'Jerry'), and the esoteric TTSNB (pronounced tits-nab), short for “Things That Should Not Be”.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 24, 2012, 09:15:43 AM

Exegesis

When an agent is resurrected, do they remember being dead (as distinct from the dying process)? Are there any significant advantages/disadvantages to experiencing death.

Agents who have been revived following medical death have no conscious memory of the time they spent dead. However, they are often plagued by phantasmagorical nightmares, the exact nature and imagery of which seems unique to the individual. Chamber psychologists attribute this to both the existential shock of having literally come back to the dead and the means used in the process, which are, to say the least, experimental.

So while some agents come back emboldened or enlightened by their visions, most find the experience suitably traumatic that it’s something the endeavor to never repeat. And as I mentioned before, there are the various physical and psychological side-effects of the process, including but not limited to: strange cancers, tumorous growths, changes in body chemistry and/or spiritual aura, exotic psychological syndromes, and limited to total possession.

Exegesis

Can a person be brought back to life after their soul has been tortured? If so, does it change them in horrifying ways?

Yes and no. By the time you’ve reached the point where you’re torturing someone’s ghost, they’ve been dead for so long that revivification is impossible; the threshold is usually a few hours to at most a day, depending on how they died. It is possible to directly torture the soul of someone who’s still alive, but it’s a complicated, time-consuming process reserved for only the hardest of cases. And in both cases, the victim comes out of the experience invariably warped on a fundamental, metaphysical level and, more often than not, irrevocably psychotic.

Exegesis

Does liquidation refer to ectoplasmic harvest?

It’s actually just a slightly more polite euphemism for assassination. ‘Wetwork’ is a Russian expression popularized by the KGB, so it’s not a universally-accepted term.

Exegesis

Does the Chamber ever use children or the mentally infirm? If so, to what end?

Not as agents, but sometimes as test subjects. There’s a prevailing theory about children’s still-developing brains make better vessels for otherworldly entities than those of adults, but even in the Black Chamber, that’s considered somewhat tasteless. The mentally infirm are likewise considered to be more sensitive to extra-normal phenomenon and are sometimes used as lunatic ‘oracles’, their marginalized position in society making them perfectly-deniable assets.

Children have occasionally resulted from breeding programs with various entities (‘Deep Ones’, ghouls, ancient astronauts, etc.) conducted by both the Chamber and their Third Reich predecessors. Those not born with obvious mutations or inhuman psychoses are raised by Chamber personnel to serve as potential field agents in the future.

In this vein, Chamber headhunters sometimes approach prisoners facing exceptionally-harsh sentences. The offer is straightforward: work of the Black Chamber and receive a pardon. No guarantees are given about whether or not they’ll survive to enjoy it.

Exegesis

Does it ever recruit from the Illuminati?

Never. Well, almost never. They’re a lot more hesitant to accept defectors than their mundane counterparts, whether it’s from the Illuminati or one of their opposite-numbers. There was a particularly-nasty indecent that has since been immortalized in Black Chamber lore, where an apparent Illuminati defector turned out to have been subconsciously programmed with a powerful summoning-rote. The resulting hellpawn tore itself out of her skull and proceeded to massacre the entire team sent to pick her up.

So, despite the official policy to liquidate rather than turn enemy agents, defectors are sometimes accepted if they can provide invaluable information, information they couldn’t possible acquire through less-risky means. Of course, they then have to pass undergo thorough debriefing by Chamber ‘inquisitors’ and psychological and spiritual deprogramming (defusing, really). 

Exegesis

What special toys did the Nazi scientists bring to the table? Do any of them have divided allegiances?

The Nazi scientists, engineers, and occultists acquired during Operation Paperclip and similar operations revolutionized the Black Chamber’s understanding of ENEs. Both the sides had consorted with the occult to gain an edge in the war, but the Axis had been infinitely more thorough in its study, while the Allies had always kept such ‘necessary evils’ at arms-length. When the Chamber was done picking their brain (sometimes literally), they were left with literally volumes of secrets, formulas, and blueprints. Among other things, the Third Reich had conducted numerous expeditions to certain quasi-geographies that had long been thought legendary. They were also the first to accurately quantify the effects of occult energies on the human body and psyche.

The pseudoscience of the day being what it was, the vast majority of Nazis were not ‘debriefed’ anywhere near as thoroughly as the defectors today might; the Directors did not want to risk compromising any of their information or expertise. As a result, more have defected than anyone cares to talk about: many were acquired by the Illuminati, including the infamous ‘Argentinian Expats’: Nazi war criminals smuggled to Latin America via ODESSA ratlines. The Chamber continues to have trouble with stay-behind units, many of whom include enhanced soldiers and full-blown Others.

Exegesis

Even though the Chamber doesn't use psycho-programming to ensure agent secrecy (so you claim), what kinds of psycho-programming might they apply to agents?

Mental blocks to prevent sensitive information from being extracted through torture or telepathic programming. Empathy reduction. Conditioning of the agent’s psyche to resist the effects of entities whose powers or very appearance induce psychoses. Counter-possession wards. Fine-tuning of the fight-or-flight response, in either direction. Linguistic implants. Hell, implanting entire, selectively-dissociative personalities.

Exegesis

Do agents get to choose how/when they are "enhanced"? Do such enhancements make them more/less subject to P/S/E attention?

In metagame terms, the players get to pick what enhancements their characters receive.

In-setting, however, the agents are totally at the mercy of their superiors’ decisions. They’re lucky if they’re informed of what the procedure entails, what the effects will be, or even that it’s being performed. While the enhancements are usually intended to complement the agent’s strengths or make up for their weaknesses, Chamber surgeons and technicians are infamous for their cavalier attitudes, so it’s not unheard of for the ‘upgrades’ to be something totally bizarre.

Exegesis

Do any of these enhancements have minds of their own? Do these enhancements ever "accidentally" transform agents into monsters?

Some do, whether it’s an alien computer-crystal or just the residual memory from grafted ghoul muscle. While few end up completely dominating the agent they’re implanted into, subtle shifts in personality or demeanor are not unheard of.

The Chamber generally tries to avoid turning its people into monsters. For jobs that require a monster, they just employ actual monsters, and they don’t have to waste valuable time and technology getting them that way.

Exegesis

How does an enhanced agent measure up against a typical P/S/E threat, mano-a-mano?

That varies immensely, depending on the agent and threat in question. To put it broadly, most enhancements boost the agent’s capabilities beyond what is possible for most humans, sometimes to the level of minorly-superhuman. This might put them of the level of an ENE ‘foot soldier’ but anything above that is still likely to tear through them like wet tissue paper in a straight-up fight. Enhancements give them a realistic chance of surviving contact; agents still have to rely on superior planning and tactics to close the rest of the gap.

Exegesis

How does the Chamber keep surveillance on its agents? Who watches the watchers?

They’re not as active about is as one might expect. Agents’ superiors expect regular status reports and check-ins; go off the grid for any extended amount of time and they risk giving the impression that they’ve gone rogue or defected. The Chamber also employs ‘pavement artists’ to keep an eyeball on agents they have concerns about.

Of course, this is the Black Chamber, so they’re perfectly capable of using blood samples to triangulate their people’s positions via sympathetic magic; this method is highly-susceptible to jamming, so it’s significantly less effective against enemy agents. A more precise but far more involved method is to use some manner of panopticon-entity, but they are inhumanly-difficult to get an answer out of that isn’t infinitely-self-referential.

And nobody does. Welcome to zero government oversight, baby.

Exegesis

Are there any ancient pseudo-human cultures at large today?

While the great pseudo-human civilizations were all but wiped out in the secret wars of antiquity, some populations survive to this day, hidden in the remote corners of former colonies, particularly in Africa. This includes the dog-headed cynocephali, the one-footed skiapodes, the headless and cannibalistic anthropophagi, the towering syrbotae, and the aquatic mermaid. The Chamber has tentatively approached many of them, considering them too small a threat to warrant extermination. During operations that take them through these creatures’ territories, agents sometimes employ them as guides; while they are difficult to conceal, the Chamber does keep on hand a small platoon of ‘dog soldiers’.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: SA on September 24, 2012, 03:49:46 PM

Superbright

"The resulting hellpawn tore itself out of her skull"
That's what I'm talking about!

Superbright

It’s actually just a slightly more polite euphemism for assassination.
I was familiar with the term, but I figured the Chamber's combination of amorality and efficiency might have given the term some darker implications. Since liquidation involves the redistribution of resources, why not recycle the victim's soul?

Are you familiar with Mutant City Blues? It uses the GUMSHOE system and incorporates a matrix of principally investigation-related powers. You could readily combine it with Esoterrorists/Night's Black Agents.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 24, 2012, 03:59:26 PM

Exegesis

Are you familiar with Mutant City Blues? It uses the GUMSHOE system and incorporates a matrix of principally investigation-related powers. You could readily combine it with Esoterrorists/Night's Black Agents.

Heard of it, never checked it out, but I guess I'll have to now! NBA gives an example of how to go about playing a vampire agent, so I figured I'd modify those rules a little for any superhuman powers the agents get from their enhancements.

I didn't forget about the rest of your questions. After the first hour I spent writing up responses, I knew I was going to have to take a break and come back to them later. And then you just kept posting more...

And one last thing: one of my favorites bits of he Charles Stross novels are amazingly-evocative code names he comes up with: Deep Ones are BLUE HADES, Mi-go are PLUTO KOBOLD, gorgons are GAME ANDES REDSHIFT, the horrible pocket dimension is called OGRE REALITY, etc. I was planning on doing a similar thing for the Black Chamber, so if anyone has any suggestions (with or without ENEs to go with them), feel free to share.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: SA on September 24, 2012, 04:34:30 PM

Superbright

And then you just kept posting more...
Blame sparkletwist and her "community participation initiative". You were just in the wrong/right place at the right/wrong time.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 24, 2012, 04:54:39 PM

Exegesis

Blame sparkletwist and her "community participation initiative". You were just in the wrong/right place at the right/wrong time.

Hey, I'm not complaining. Yours is one of the writing styles I wish I was talented enough to emulate.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 25, 2012, 02:56:22 AM

Exegesis

How has the P/S/E rogues gallery (particularly the cthulhus, and deities if they exist) responded to the advent of atomic power? Are any of them taking concrete steps to prevent/instigate nuclear war?

It certainly did shift the balance of power towards humanity’s side, however infinitesimally. The playing field isn’t anywhere close to even, of course, but there’s now at least the possibility that these quasi-godlike entities could be killed or, at the very least, forced back into whatever realm spawned them. This is during the time of Project PLUTO and SLAM: nuclear-powered cruise missiles. It’s not inconceivable that the Black Chamber might be working on ways to turn such technology into a reliable ‘godkiller’ weapon.

Certainly, there are entities of all power-levels with apocalyptic designs that view atomic weapons and their potential for global-devastation as a veritable Christmas present. At the same time, there are plenty more who are quite comfortable with the status quo, require humans for sustenance or amusement, or simply have designs that do not include mushroom clouds blooming on the horizon. OCCINTEL agencies on all sides work to actively subvert any ENEs who attempt to acquire a nuclear weapon, sometimes pitting them against each other. In fact, such a threat is one of the few that will prompt an uneasy cooperation between the Black Chamber and 17th Directorate; in the opinion of the most cynical “If anyone’s going to start a war that wipes out humanity, it’ll be humanity.”

Exegesis

Is a Black Chamber contract written on A) paper B) stone C) human skin D) the agent's own soul? Is it a spiritually binding contract or simply a formality? Are there any P/S/E entities that recognize the legitimacy of such a contract?

The correct answer is A) paper.

While it seems innocuous enough (especially if you only skim the fine print written in inhuman lettering), the contract all Black Chamber personnel sign is a piece of powerful bureaucratic sorcery that binds them not only legally, but metaphysically. In addition to waiving or amending the majority of their civil rights, the contract also creates a lasting sympathetic link, making it much, much easier for the Chamber to scry an agent’s location, conjure their ghost, etc. Such a link if difficult to break or suppress, but not impossible.

The contract also has the benefit of providing agents with some level of protection from the myriad of entities the Black Chamber employs as advisors, ‘technical experts’, and occasionally even as field agents. Whether it strengthens a binding geas, renders their aura spiritually-unpalatable, or simply compels the respect of such beings, it makes possible a working, even convivial, relationship between agent and monster.

Exegesis

Have there been any profound cosmological revelations in the past 60 years?

These are just some rough brainstormings, even more so than the rest of what I’ve written. As such, they may change dramatically in the near future.

With the advances in such fields as computational science, post-Einsteinian metaphysics, arcane formulae, and anti-Euclidean geometries, along with first-hand information gleaned from occult sources, Black Chamber researchers and theorists have been able to construct an increasingly-complete (and complex) picture of the universe.

It was only in the 1930s that plate tectonics became an accepted scientific theory; with those studies came evidence of labyrinth of tunnel-networks honeycombing the Earth’s crust and non-human civilizations existing miles below the surface, even below the Mohorovičić discontinuity.

Documents and personnel recovered in Operation PAPERCLIP verify that Ahnenerbe expeditions managed to reach several esoteric geographies, verifying the hypothesis that such locales exist in dimensions that only intersect with our own at certain points in time or under specific conditions, and not always at the same point. Nazi explorers are believed to have reached Hyperborea, Bhogavati, Leng, Lemuria, Mu, and Ultima Thule; following their directions, Chamber agents have been able to visit several of these locations as well.

The Chamber is increasingly-aware of the existence of other realities existing parallel to our own, though creating a stable portal to them is proving infinitely more tricky that creating one to, say, the dark side of the Moon. Some of the more hateful ones, actively malignant to mortal life, have been termed ‘Dark Anthropic Zones’.

Related is the theory that attached to our current timeline are multiple parasitic ‘alternate pasts’, including BLAVATSKY REALITY, which contradicts virtually all current scientific theory.

Chamber ontologists, metaphysicists, and theologists believe they have identified several ‘pantheons’ of entities of sufficient scale and power to be considered ‘gods’, including several who appear to be actively-malevolent. At the explicit orders of the Directors, work is underway on Project NIETZSCHE. Further information is classified.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 26, 2012, 03:36:05 PM

Light Dragon

I'd be interested in hearing more about any sub-groups or specializations in the Black Chamber, if you're looking for something else to write about it.

Man, I feel like a dick for having totally forgotten about this question. When you say subgroups and specializations are you referring to the Black Chamber as an entity or individual agents?

I’ll get to both eventually, but I’m curious as to which you’d prefer to see first.

Also, the document I'm saving all of this to is now 20-pages long. That's the most I've ever managed to churn out for a single setting, ever.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: SA on September 26, 2012, 03:52:57 PM

Quote

I’ll get to both eventually, but I’m curious as to which you’d prefer to see first.
That's a toughie. To my mind, the specialisations of the Chamber itself probably play a large part in defining the setting's conflicts, while individual agent specialisation speaks more to the player toolset and the nuts'n'bolts of character creation.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 27, 2012, 05:13:50 AM
The Black Chamber is roughly divided into two branches: ‘Home Office’ and Field Operations. Some departments appear to straddle divide between the two, while others don’t fit comfortably into either.

Home Office encompasses the Chamber’s administrative branch. While the Directors are the officially-unofficial heads of the agency and issue often-cryptic marching orders, it is Deputy Directors and their executive officers who actually see to the day-to-day operations. The ‘housekeepers’ manage personnel, finances, facilities, communications, logistics, and perhaps one of the most crucial departments of all: Internal Security. This is where you can find the lion’s share of the Black Chamber’s analysts, scientists, occult theorists, parapsychologists, medical staff, and the “computer technicians” who have to make sure TYPEWRITER CARNIVORE stays fed.

Field Operations is the home of the unlucky bastards who actually have to leave the safe, warded confines of an unmarked office and do the real legwork. Most are general “field agents” with a bit of training in all the important elements of the trade, though nobody go very long without developing some sort of specialty, such as ‘artists’ (surveillance), ‘cleaners’ (evidence-removal), ‘liquidators’ (assassination), ‘and plumbers’ (counter-possession). There’s also a large contingent of ‘babysitters’, paramilitary operatives recruited from NATO services. Rounding out the bunch are the field support: on-site analysts, medics, technicians, etc. There are few standing departments within Field Operations. The most notorious one is Special Projects: it frequently disappears and reappears from agency records, has zero-accountability even within the Chamber itself, and the agents assigned there full time are often so heavily enhanced they’re quasi-human at best, if they were even human to begin with.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: LD on September 27, 2012, 06:14:20 PM
Ah good, that's what I was curious about. What I was also wondering about was if there are any cliques within the Black Chamber- that is, are there certain researchers who have cults of personality about them-and/or  are there philosophical divisions in the Chamber about how to deal with things? Since dissent appears to be dealt with harshly with disappeared members, the dynamics of the Chamber's self-policing juxtaposed to its development of creative ideas to deal with difficult tasks seems to be intriguing.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 30, 2012, 11:54:05 PM
I have no ideas what these are going to be, but here's just a few names I jotted down while I should've been studying. I want the code names to be vaguely-evocative of the entities they refer to, without out-and-out giving away what they are. Some, however, will be entirely unrelated: all official designations, both for entities and agents, are produced by TYPEWRITER CARNIVORE who, Chamber scientists have determined, hates us all. If anyone feels inspired, by all means, share away: I'll get to them sometime, hopefully soon.

MANHATTAN CANINE: Ghouls, cannibalistic, subterranean half-dead.

COFFIN DENMARK: Vampires, broad umbrella term.

XERXES ASTRONAUT: Animate statues made of a living alien mineral.

BUSINESS FORMAL INTERROGATORY: "Body-snatchers" and infiltrators that resemble the archetypal "Men in Black", often cooperate with the Illuminati.

NEVADA SURGEON: "Greys", bug-eyed, impossibly-lanky extraterrestrials infamous for their medical experimentation.

QUEBEC RADIO

TEQUILA SUNSPOT

CENOTAPH PERSONA

AWFUL SHRUBBERY

COSSACK BOREHOLE

BENTHIC GOLDSMITH: Deep Ones.

MONACO GAMBLER: short-term precognition, a la Nick Cage in "Next".


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Ghostman on October 19, 2012, 09:39:00 AM
I'm thinking that the COSSACK BOREHOLE could refer to something like a crossover between the Sandworms from Dune, the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi, and antlions; immense underground burrowing things that never come to the surface but occasionally cause sudden sinkholes to gape open on the ground above, devouring anything that falls down. They could be bred as larvae within secret 17th Directorate laboratories, to be employed as bio-weapons by transplanting them into the soil near American oil fields in an attempt to disrupt the capitalists' energy supply, as well as to cause trouble for any Black Chamber agents that are sure to show up investigating.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Steerpike on October 19, 2012, 06:27:45 PM
TEQUILA SUNSPOT sounds like it could refer to chupacabra.  Or Aztec mummies.  Or maybe some kind of freaky Day of the Dead style event.  Something to do with solar flares and zombies/ghosts maybe...?

Are you looking for more codenames or just ideas for what the preexisting codenames should stand for?

I'm currently reading the Laundry series right now, as it happens - I'm about halfway through Jennifer Morgue.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on October 19, 2012, 06:36:59 PM
I'd welcome either. I've been meaning to give this setting more attention now, that I'm over the mid-semester hump.

Hope you dig the novel as much as I did; I admit, his info-dumping can make it kind of hard to read on occasion and makes any of his harder works (yes, it gets even crunchier) virtually-unintelligible for someone like me.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Steerpike on October 20, 2012, 02:14:52 PM
Code-name ideas:

TUNDRA GLUTTONY - wendigo possession
MEMPHIS BITUMEN - mummies
BILIOUS CRADLE - changeling phenomena


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Humabout on October 21, 2012, 11:57:48 PM
AWEFUL SHRUBBERY - a rather ancient and bloodthirsty herecine near Hausach, Germany.

(btw, this setting just stinks of awesomeness.  I'd post more right now, but I'm still overwhelmed by it.  Expect questions to come.)


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on October 23, 2012, 01:02:27 PM

Steerpike

Code-name ideas:

TUNDRA GLUTTONY - wendigo possession
MEMPHIS BITUMEN - mummies
BILIOUS CRADLE - changeling phenomena

I am absolutely going to find a way to use these!


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on October 24, 2012, 01:48:30 PM
Since I've talked so much about the Black Chamber, here's some more about their Soviet opposition, the 17th Directorate.

The 17th Directorate has its roots in various anti-occult branches and subcommittees of the secret police that were a part of the Russian Empire for virtually its entire existence, though such historical groups typically took a much more conservative view of occult phenomenon, destroying whatever they got their hands on rather than converting or exploiting it. During the October Revolution of 1917, cabals of sorcerers, necromancers, and other occult creatures who had been persecuted by the Imperialist Okhrana were quick to throw their support behind the nascent Communist Cheka, laying the foundation for an organization that would fester in the shadows for decades. Like the Black Chamber, the Directorate only really came into its own after World War II, using the Fall of Berlin as cover to forcibly extract some of Hitler’s top occultists and seize the lion’s share of artifacts and intelligence.

Much like its Western counterpart, the existence of the 17th Directorate is a closely-guarded secret to all but the highest echelons of the Communist Party, and even they are frequently kept in the dark about just what it is the agency actually does. Of course, such secrecy is far easier to accomplish in an oppressive police state like the Soviet Union than it is in the ostensibly-free West: even the entirely-mundane military intelligence department, the GRU, has never been openly acknowledged. The Directorate exerts invisible influence over the KGB, the GRU, the MVD, the Soviet military, the militsiya, and similar organizations in other Warsaw Pact states. They maintain their own secret gulags and science cities, hidden in the most remote corners of Siberia and Central Asia. They are very active in regions with strong Communist movements, such as Southeast Asia, Latin America, and post-colonial Africa. They also seem to be very involved with the Soviet space program, having sent men into orbit as early as the 1950s, though their reasons for doing so remain nebulous, since virtually none of the cosmonauts ever returned.

A significant portion of the Directorate’s efforts seem to be directed at phenomena related to the noosphere, the collective unconscious, gestalt psychology, and the development of so-called ‘psychotronic’ weapons. Closely related are their efforts into the process of apotheosis: the production of artificial gods. Based on numerous, if disjointed, field reports, the Black Chamber has been forced to recognize the very likely possibility that the programs STALINIST GOTHIC and SOVIET REALISM were successful in their creation of deity-level entities capable of acting through human avatars. The most infamous of the ‘Soviet pantheon’ is the entity codenamed GENERAL WINTER, who has demonstrated incredible cryokinetic abilities as well as limited control over weather patterns; others include WITCH HOUSE, BLACK HAMMER, DOOMSDAY AURORA, DEATHLESS, and FURNACE BIRD. Luckily, such beings appear to be constrained to behind the Iron Curtain or areas sympathetic to Communist ideology, alleviating worries over one such entity coalescing in the middle of London. However, that is not much relief for agents operating in Warsaw Pact countries.

Also like the Black Chamber, the Directorate employs a number of inhuman entities as both advisors and field agents. Reports indicate encounters with rusalka and vodyanoy, vila, and other creatures more-or-less exclusive to the region.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Steerpike on November 01, 2012, 02:21:39 PM
So does The Black Chamber setting take place in during the Cold War, or is this an alternate history where the USSR still exists?


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Lmns Crn on November 01, 2012, 04:54:33 PM

Superbright

GENERAL WINTER... WITCH HOUSE, BLACK HAMMER, DOOMSDAY AURORA, DEATHLESS, and FURNACE BIRD
Words cannot express how much I love this list.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on November 01, 2012, 05:35:36 PM

Steerpike

So does The Black Chamber setting take place in during the Cold War, or is this an alternate history where the USSR still exists?

The time period is some time in the early 1960s; I think I mentioned that somewhere, but I don't blame you if you missed it. It's not like the whole thing being some alt timeline is that unbelievable a stretch.

Also, add Communists from the future to the list of possible adversaries.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: LD on November 02, 2012, 04:03:41 PM
Superbright, in case you didn't notice, Steerpike wrote up an addition to your setting for the site's contest: http://www.thecbg.org/index.php/topic,209731.msg218684.html#new

I also expressed an interest in learning more about stalinist gothic, in the thread.

Best,
LD.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on November 04, 2012, 02:47:44 PM
Ah, STALINIST GOTHIC. I had a feeling that was going to get some attention.

It was my intention to leave that deliberately vague, to be honest. What the Black Chamber knows for certain is that STALINIST GOTHIC and its successor program SOVIET REALISM were both attempts by Directorate metaphysicists to coalesce pseudo-deities sympathetic to the Soviet cause. While full-scale possession by an entity of that class is typically a short-term affair, the raw spiritual power exploding neurons and rupturing organs, the researchers have discovered a means to prepare human avatars, through a combination of metallic implants and chemical treatments, so that they can channel an entity more or less indefinitely.

In game-terms, they’re supposed to be one step below “Rock falls, everyone dies”: if the players have totally blown their cover, if the entire mission has gone all the way south and there’s a trail of bodies behind them, then they can reasonably expect a visit from GENERAL WINTER and its ilk. I’m reluctant to stat them out because barring the sort of firepower that would start WWIII, the agents aren’t going to have a reliable means of taking them out. Electromagnetism might disrupt the deities’ psychic resonance that disable them temporarily, but for the most part, the only reliable solution would be to run as fast as possible and never look back.

Also, still a girl.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Steerpike on November 07, 2012, 09:25:23 PM
Do any of the other NATO powers (Britain, Canada, etc) have any occult intelligence agencies of their own?  How about China?


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on November 07, 2012, 09:42:31 PM

Steerpike

Do any of the other NATO powers (Britain, Canada, etc) have any occult intelligence agencies of their own?  How about China?

While much of its funding and personnel comes from the United States, the Black Chamber itself is actually a trans-national organization, sort of like Gladio: the NATO members most heavily involved include Great Britain, France, Italy, West Germany, and Sweden, but pretty much any nation in the West can expect to have the Chamber working its tendrils into their military and intelligence services to some extend and siphoning off anything it finds useful.

I've actually been doing a lot of thinking about China. If it is a player in the OCCINTEL, it's organization is much cruder and more reactionary than either the Black Chamber or 17th Directorate. While we're still a good few years away from the Invisible Revolution that saw the vicious persecution of suspected non-humans and the destruction of vats areas of woodland believed to be harboring tcho-tcho communities, the Chinese are still infamous for their scorched earth tactics. They augment their agents as well, most of their knowledge based on research recovered from the Japanese Unit 815, but because they have such incredible manpower at their fingertips, the enhancements are typically incredibly unstable, giving the operatives even shorter life expectancies than their foreign counterparts.

As an aside, I was thinking about the modern Black Chamber. The organization  itself wouldn't be too incredibly different, but Illuminati and "eso-terrorists" would be the main political threat and the 17th Directorate would've all but collapsed, with many of its agents jumping ship to join Illuminati groups or the Russian Mafiya. Super-powered East European mob hitters: think about that for a second.


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on November 08, 2012, 11:00:50 AM
GHOSTWRITER: the entity believed to be the inspiration for the Abrahamic patriarch-deity. Possibly omnipotent and/or omniscient, but strategic theologists have not made a conclusive determination. Operation currently underway to triangulate its position and develop a weapon, delivery system capable of killing it. If theory that “God is inside all of us” proves true, collateral damage may be slightly higher than projected.

LEVANTINE SADISM: pantheon indigenous to Eastern Mediterranean. Despite the genocide of their followers, supposedly at the command of the GHOSTWRITER entity, most of the deities themselves are still very much existent and preliminary propitiations suggest that their power has not diminished due to lack of worship, disproving Patenaude’s Axiom.

BLACK VIKING ALTERNATIVE: believed to be a vanguard force from a much bleaker version of reality. Clad in matte black environmental suits that resemble a cross between SK-1 spacesuits and Gothic plate armor, nearly impervious to conventional firearms. They are armed with highly-advanced energy and ballistic weapons, many of which bear a striking resemblance to BENTHIC GOLDSMITH and AMBER PYRAMID technology. Their lethality cannot be overstated: just three were responsible for the wholesale massacre of Camp Juliette, forcing the release a BRAINPAN GOURMAND psychovore as a weapon of last resort. A post-incident autopsy conducted on the two recovered bodies revealed that they were literally built into their suits, their bodies a combination of mutilated human flesh, necrotic tissue, metallic piping, and throbbing fungal growths.

TYPEWRITER CARNIVORE: a very thin cross-section of the DOWNING VOYUER panopticon entity bound within a hybrid Colossus mainframe/anti-Babbage machine. For security purposes, the room that houses the entity is also an UNCERTAINTY BOX: when the door is sealed, it exists in no less than two and no more than seven different locations at any given moment. It is quite possibly one of the most spiteful, malicious entities known to man and has frequently stated, usually via ticker tape but sometimes via runes carved into the bodies of technicians that must occasionally be pried out of tis bowels, all of the hideous punishments it would love to inflict on the entire human race as revenge for its imprisonment. Amongst the many jobs it performs are the assigning of codenames to ENEs and agents: obscene or humiliating designations are not uncommon.

ARACHNID MARIONETTE: spider-shaped creatures (but not spiders) that colonize human skulls via the ear canals or nasal passages, rapidly multiplying as they consume the brain over a period of days. They demonstrate disturbing intellect in utilizing the host body to colonize others, whether through force or guile. In older host-bodies, it is not uncommon for the entire chest cavity to be hollowed-out and filled to bursting with the tiny, nine-legged monstrosities.

LONGSHOT REICHSTAAG: extraterrestrial Nazi stay-behind force.



Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Steerpike on November 08, 2012, 04:36:06 PM
By extraterrestrial Nazi stay-behind force, do you mean Nazis in orbit in secret space-stations/moon-bases?


Title: Re: The Black Chamber
Post by: Rhamnousia on November 09, 2012, 11:01:34 AM

Steerpike

By extraterrestrial Nazi stay-behind force, do you mean Nazis in orbit in secret space-stations/moon-bases?

I was actually envisioning them in a cramped, claustrophobic base on a tiny moon orbiting a dying star lightyears away and occasionally popping back to Earth via unstable portals, usually to extract or terminate ex-Nazi scientists like the ones taken during Operation PAPERCLIP.


Title: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on March 01, 2013, 11:06:22 PM

Out of Character

So I'm bumping the setting up to present day. While I've quite a lot of tweaks and revisions in mind, here's a bit of the backstory to set the tone. Let me know what you think.

In 1984, the Doomsday Clock was set at three minutes to midnight. As aging leaders gave apocalyptic speeches, people held their breath in fear that at any moment, the clock would strike and the bell would toll and that would be the end of everything.

If only they knew how close it almost came.

The members of the Commission who survived with their sanity intact remember the height of the Cold War with a cynical, bitter sort of nostalgia. Gone were the discussions of whether or not they could avoid full-scale war with the Soviet Union or even how long they could stave off open hostilities: the only question was how well-prepared they would be when the inevitable happened and how many punches the enemy would be able to get in before they brutally bludgeoned them into oblivion. If the early founders of the Commission looked at the occult intelligence game as a way of preventing the sort of nightmare-war the Nazis had planned on waging, then it was with disturbing giddiness that their Reagan Era successors scribbled notes into the margins of those very same battle plans accounting for developments in aeronautics and nuclear fusion. Whatever sense of ethics or fair play they had ever possessed was a concubine they enthusiastically dismembered in the name of defeating the Moscow Hotel, their counterparts behind the Iron Curtain.

In darkened rooms and underground laboratories, the brightest scientific minds, their names erased from their families’ memories, collaborated with the remnants of Operation PAPERCLIP on projects to weaponize Dee and Pythagoras the same way the Manhattan Project weaponized Noddack: projects like GODSLAM, TELEPHONE ZIGGURAT, DIVING BELL, RAINBOW DRAWBRIDGE. Forgotten programs for which men had been hanged and worse were revived. Cross-species breeding camps.The Waldfogel Experiments. The reactivation of the DUSTBOWL ARCHIPELAGO science cities. The only projects that ever went “too far” were the infamous OPPENHEIMER THEOLOGY and MINNESOTA BLUE, the research staffs quickly and discreetly executed or lobotomized. Operation OLD TIME RELIGION taught contras how to reawaken TEQUILA SUNSPOT death-entities with human sacrifices and DREADFUL ELIZABETH turned the writings of exiled Russian monks and heterodox Umayyad scholars into a field manual for waging occult counter-Soviet insurgencies. AGGRESSIVE PHILOLOGY successfully assassinated one of the three GHOSTWRITER emanations to reduce the number of variables during the End of Days. OLIVE BRANCH tapped the expertise of several of the werewolf units hiding in bunkers in parallel dimensions and on dying moons. American citizens were bartered to alien races as fodder for experimentation, or just as fodder, in exchange for exotic technologies. When Whitehall began to get cold feet, the most important question became how quickly they could train Thatcher’s doppelganger to write right-handed. HANGMAN MOLAR. VENUS OUBLIETTE. SPIDER QUEEN DENMARK. SKULLFUCK ROULETTE. APACHE SYNOGOGUE. BLIND MIDWIFE. The first two incarnations of EFFERVESCENT HATE MACHINE. GOBLIN GAME ANAGRAM. STILLBIRTH. HALFBIRTH. Good men and women died in ways human beings were never supposed to have died, their names engraved on a black basalt cenotaph on a distant planetoid. Worse men and women were allowed to live. All to further the greatest and most horrible battle-plan ever devised by human minds, the very opus of atrocity: OPERATION THIMBLE VINEYARD.

But then, its knuckles wrapped, a dagger clutched between its teeth and its mind steeled for what was to be the Last War, the Endgame, the Gotterdammerung, the Commission struck the lightest of opening blows. And their opponent shattered like hot glass. The invisible bogeyman of the Cold War, the Moscow Hotel, taken to the knacker’s yard and rearranged into an alphabet soup of new agencies. A considerable amount of personnel and artifacts disappeared into the booming underworld: KGB suitcase nukes were the least-dangerous thing to go missing from Soviet vaults. None of the SOVIET REALISTS were ever accounted for. Guerilla armies saw the enemy they were trained to fight evaporate and instead found new targets, leading to a rise in “esoterrorism”. Illuminati groups that had once been relegated to the sidelines began to force their way into the vacuum, ready to hungrily pick apart the increasingly-obsolete occult-intelligence complex.

And as fifty years of work turned to crematorium ash in its mouth, the Commission started to go a little bit…mad.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Steerpike on March 08, 2013, 01:48:05 AM
This is such a great setting - black and poetic and ballsy.  SKULLFUCK ROULETTE.  SPIDER QUEEN DENMARK.  So much awesome.

I love that the Commission is described as just now "going a little bit mad."  As if keeping TYPEWRITER CARNIVORE around was, you know, sane or something!


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Xathan on March 08, 2013, 01:52:49 AM
Just want to chime in that I love this setting's feeling. It's written with a gallows humor that comes across as being played complete straight.

I want to know what the hell TELEPHONE ZIGGURAT is more than anything else.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Steerpike on March 08, 2013, 02:02:01 AM
I'm sure time travel is possible in this setting, so a crazy Black Chamber/Commission crossover is possible.  Operation LICENTIOUS HOURGLASS perhaps?  WRISTWATCH SEPSIS?  HAIRSPRING SUPPURATION?  GRANDFATHER CASTRATION?  SUNDIAL ABATTOIR?  CLEPSYDRA OBSCENITY?  PENDULUM PATHOGEN?  HOROLOGIST INFLAMMATION?  FRISKY OUROBOROS?


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on March 08, 2013, 02:20:03 AM
I've actually gone back and forth on time travel. While the recurring presence of entities like the BLACK VIKING ALTERNATIVE certainly indicate that it's possible, it's also wholly beyond the Commission's capabilities to do so regularly or with any great degree of success. I'm batting around the idea that most time travel involves jumping into the past or future of other, neighboring timelines: a common practice during the height of the Cold War was abducting individuals from alternate futures and then attempting to back-extrapolate as much useful intelligence as possible from their accounts.

Of course, that means that in all likelihood, alternate versions of the Commission are doing the exact same thing at this very moment.

ALSO. Glad ya'll like it. I speed-read the entire Laundry series about a week ago, so my dial is currently set to "Strangelovecraftian."


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Steerpike on March 08, 2013, 02:29:40 AM
Which was your favourite?  Of the Laundry books, that is?


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on March 08, 2013, 02:39:43 AM
The titular Atrocity Archives are definitely one of my favorite scenes in the whole series, but I'd have to give it to The Apocalypse Codex. Incidentally, Golden Promise Ministry is the exact sort of freakshow that all the Commission's work towards THIMBLE VINEYARD has inadvertently helped to spread and fester.

One of the reasons I changed the name from the Black Chamber was between The Apocalypse Codex and the companion rulebook, Game_God_Black, there's a growing picture of what Stross' Black Chamber is like that's very different from what I'm aiming for, so I'm tying to put in a bit of distance between the two. It is one hell of a name, though.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on March 08, 2013, 02:48:54 AM

Out of Character

My schedule being what it is, these'll be coming piecemeal as the spirit moves me. But not the Spirit. They got that one.

Keep one thing in mind: the Commission does not exist. Being an agent of the Commission in no way verifies the existence of the Commission. The Commission is not an agency, bureau, branch, department, office, service, ministry, or chamber of the United States or any other government. The Commission has never been accounted for on budget or organizational chart, because it doesn't exist. The Commission has never been acknowledged by any head of state or government, because it doesn't exist. The Commission is not accountable to any sort of regulatory or judicial body, because it does not exist. For the purposes of a purely-hypothetical thought experiment, if the Commission did exist, it would be most not-unlike an intergovernmental task force headed by a nameless, faceless fifteen-member Committee, its byzantine organizational structure so thoroughly occulted that nobody who hasn't had their birth certificate redacted could truthfully admit to knowing where it starts and where it ends, and funded out of bottomless black budgets’ bottomless black budgets. But of course, it doesn't, it isn't, and it’s not, because it doesn't exist.

To tell the truth, the Commission isn't doing quite as well as it used to. It went through a nasty succession of purges after Operation THIMBLE VINEYARD imploded and most of the higher-ups who weren't assassinated during the dozen or so power struggles had significant blocks of their memories sterilized. Though now just a shell of the great lumbering monstrosity that it once was, many of the seeds sown during the Cold War have begun to bear poisonous fruit and the new fear is that if left unchecked, the end result will be an occult singularity that will shatter the carefully-constructed façade of normality, which could in turn trigger other singularities that could shatter a great deal more.

If there’s any rhyme or reason to how the Commission goes about recruiting its agents, its utterly obfuscated from those it comes calling on. Witnessing (or actively participating) in some occult phenomena is an effective way to attract its swift and immediate attention, but plenty of recruits live seemingly mundane-lives before the serious-looking men in dark suits start following them everywhere they go. Being a governmental body in much the same way as an Armillaria solidipes is technically a pizza topping, the higher-ups at the Commission have a certain, shall we say, sympathy for government agents, but never from the old guard: it likes them fresh and inexperienced, often the promising sort with at most a year or two under their belts. The same goes for the armed forces: soldiers and servicemen on their first tour, who've just begun to crack from the stress of what they've seen. It recruits from the Special Forces as well, but they disappear into the mysterious BISHOP units and rarely emerge recognizably human. Hackers who manage to decrypt classified documents without triggering the memetic-kill securities usually earn themselves a hard knock and a one-sided question, as do university students who demonstrate aptitude in one of the fields the Commission would rather remain poorly-understood by the general public. Convicted criminals with the potential to make themselves useful are offered pardons in exchange for their service, regardless of whether they’re approached on death row in Georgia or on a black flight to Anchorage.

But the Commission also finds its people through more…unorthodox means. It conducts systematic sweeps, looking for individuals with abnormal blood types or psychological profiles that might predispose them to the sort of insanities the organization likes to cultivate. It keeps an eye on the children and grandchildren of its attempts to crossbreed humans with entities like GOLDSMITH, MANHATTAN CANINE, and DENMARK RED, as well as survivors of programs like MONSTER CRECHE, ready to snap them up the moment they show some potential. Commission necromancers dredge up ghosts from various afterlives, especially the more hellish ones, or bind the souls of the newly-departed to their own stiffening cadavers.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: HippopotamusDundee on March 24, 2013, 05:37:10 AM
I don't have much to say that's constructive except that holy shit this is awesome. The new title works really well and feels (to me, anyway) far more evocative and akin to the mood you're trying to create.

There's a really good sense of place and theme here but I can't help but wonder - what kind of games do you envisage being run in this setting?


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: SA on July 28, 2013, 08:16:42 PM
Ooh, I missed all these developments. And now I miss them. You've taken the capitalisation gimmick and transformed it into paragraph after unrelenting paragraph of gravelly intimated THREAT. moar, yes?

ALSO: this should be, like, ten thousand novels.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 09, 2013, 03:54:44 PM
The fundamental aims of the Commission have changed dramatically since the height of the Cold War and the complete implosion of Operation THIMBLE VINEYARD. Whereas their chief concern had been the complete obliteration of their opposite numbers in the Moscow Hotel (and by extension the entirety of the Soviet Bloc), they must now contend with the fragmented nature of the occult threats that their predecessor’s innumerable excesses during the Regan Years helped to spawn: for all the forms of metaphysical obliteration it portended, the greatest sin committed by THIMBLE VINEYARD was how drastically it altered the rules that govern the game of occult intelligence. Throughout history, the groups of wise men and women who sought the secrets of the terrifying unknown may have struggled ruthlessly in the shadows, but they had always observed certain codes of conduct that kept them from turning occult knowledge into an instrument of warfare. It was this sense of ethics that kept the mute scholars of Baghdad from unleashing HUNGRY SIROCCO even as the Mongols butchered the city, kept John Dee from awakening the Ogre of Lancashire to destroy the Spanish Armada, kept the unspeakable monstrosities that have been caged in dungeons below halls of power since the days of Akkad from ever being turned loose on the battlefield, and it was this sense of ethics that the dark minds who formulated THIMBLE VINEYARD so enthusiastically spat upon. It turned a game originally played by gentlemen, albeit for apocalyptic stakes, into a game played by monsters wearing the skin of gentlemen. The occult proliferation that came with the fall of the Moscow Hotel was a coup for old-school Illuminati networks like the House of Roche and the Argentinian Expats, but it also empowered countless minor groups that hadn’t previously warranted a spot on the Commission’s radar, turning terrorist cells and ethnic syndicates into potential doomsday scenarios. When one also considers how the ill-understood occult intelligence agencies of China and Israel have been moving to fill the vacuum, it’s almost enough to warrant a pang of nostalgia for the grim certainty of the Cold War.

Commission agents receive precious little information about the shadowy supra-governmental agency they have agreed to spend the remainder of their existences serving. No sooner have they signed contracts in their own vital humors than they are put on a direct flight to a secret training facility, most often Camp Pyramid in Upstate New York. What transpires once the new recruit has arrived is a grueling regimen of physical, psychological, and spiritual torture seemingly tailor-made to induce horrifying existential crises in the prospective agents. It is only once they have retreated into the darkest depths of human despair, convinced that they will die alone and unloved in forgotten oubliette in a secret government prison that they are prepared to face the raw, reptilian terror that is a daily reality of being a Commission agent. As one of their rare mercies, the Committee allows new recruits to have their memories pharmacologically scrubbed of the more nightmarish imagery before they begin their training proper. The exhausting crash course is typically only a few weeks long as the trainees have the necessary tradecraft and combat skills (sometimes literally) drilled into their skulls; with the staggeringly-high death tolls of the late 80’s, the organization became very good at turning fresh recruits into halfway-competent agents very quickly, though the processes involved can cause a host of minor psychological problem down the line. As fieldwork tends to cause major psychological problems down the line, this concerned nobody. Once they are cleared for active duty, the new agents are given a small ceremony and then immediately assigned to a cell.

An individual cell is kept largely ignorant of its position within the labyrinthine hierarchy of the Commission, generally knowing only their immediate superiors and any other cells with whom they frequently interact. Security clearance levels and specializations have ominous-sounding titles that give very little indication of what they actually mean: INVICTUS, DEVILFISH, LABRYS, INVISIBLE, HORSEMAN, DREADNOUGHT, etc. While most field agents are aware of a larger organizational support structure, it is highly probably that whatever they interact with is only the tip of the iceberg.

It is an open secret within the Commission that being a field agent means that at some point, sooner rather than later, you will be subjected to some manner of experimental operation, conducted without your knowledge or consent, which will leave you slightly less human than you were when you started. The most dangerous procedures are first performed on the federal inmates tithed to the organization by the Burnham Act until the glaring flaws can be worked out, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe or pleasant experiences. Exotic chemical or radiation treatments. Organ transplants. Skeletal inscriptions. Mechanical implants. Fluid transfusions. Alchemical regimens. Psychological reprogramming. The bug-eyed, spidery-limbed DWARF STAR MENGELE entities that perform most surgeries do impeccable work, but there are certain unpleasant repercussions that simply cannot be avoided when having one of your eyes replaced by the optical organ of a fourth-dimensional demon. Despite the side effects, however, field agents often come to appreciate their enhancements, as they give them a much-needed edge against entities that have the average human outmatched by several orders of magnitude.

Apart from these experimental enhancements, Commission agents are equipped in the same manner as most clandestine operatives. While the official dress code of night-black business wear (standard-issue is known as “fuliginous”) and dark sunglasses are unquestionably intimidating, conjuring up fears of the Men in Black and the darker clauses of the Patriot Act, the realities of fieldwork are such that most agents dress in practical, inconspicuous street clothes. In addition to an arsenal of military and covert gear siphoned from the intelligence apparatuses of NATO governments, there are the many hybrids of cutting-edge technology and captured occult that the Commission’s research divisions have produced: while majority of them are too unstable or too specialized to be made standard-issue, a handful have proven broadly-useful enough to warrant mass-production. Agents can get their hands on adhesive protective wards, 9mm banisher rounds, and cantrip apps for their iPhones with little to no effort, but getting issued with a BOREAL ANEMONE-derived energy weapon would require significantly more clout and likely place the agent under official scrutiny until the device was returned in one piece.

Apart from these experimental enhancements, Commission agents are equipped in the same manner as most clandestine operatives. While the official dress code of night-black business wear (standard-issue is known as “fuliginous”) and dark sunglasses are unquestionably intimidating, conjuring up fears of the Men in Black and the darker clauses of the Patriot Act, the realities of fieldwork are such that most agents dress in practical, inconspicuous street clothes. In addition to an arsenal of military and covert gear siphoned from the intelligence apparatuses of NATO governments, there are the many hybrids of cutting-edge technology and captured occult that the Commission’s research divisions have produced: while majority of them are too unstable or too specialized to be made standard-issue, a handful have proven broadly-useful enough to warrant mass-production. Agents can get their hands on adhesive protective wards, 9mm banisher rounds, and cantrip apps for their iPhones with little to no effort, but getting issued with a BOREAL ANEMONE-derived energy weapon would require significantly more clout and likely place the agent under official scrutiny until the device was returned in one piece.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: SA on September 09, 2013, 06:02:21 PM

Quote

DWARF STAR MENGELE
Well that just says it all.

Less pithy: this might be the most compelling single post I've ever read on this board. Bravo.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on September 09, 2013, 08:53:06 PM
Damn, really? I was worried I was phoning it.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: SA on September 09, 2013, 09:15:26 PM
Not mutually exclusive.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on October 07, 2013, 03:33:11 PM
The taxonomy by which the Commission categorizes occult phenomena is mystery to all but the nameless analysts and researchers charged with the daunting, thankless job of classifying things that by definition are inimical to conventional human reason, but after a few months of reading case reports most rookie agents develop a rudimentary understanding of the methods to the madness. At the most general level, every occult phenomenon is classified either supernatural (SUPER), paranormal (PARA), or extraterrestrial (EXTRA). SUPER operates according to principles that are completely irreconcilable with established physical laws; PARA defies easy understanding by mainstream science without being wholly beyond its purview; and EXTRA encompasses any phenomena originating from a source beyond the Earth itself. The distinctions are largely academic, mostly differentiating entities that appear superficially similar but act according to completely different sets of principles.

DENMARK describes the wide spectrum of unliving or quasi-living entities that must sustain themselves by feeding on the living; i.e. vampires. They are among the most widespread and varied entity the Commission is aware of, indigenous to every continent and found anywhere humans congregate in large enough numbers, ranging from feral id-driven savages to superintelligent apex predators. While there are few true universals, most are subject to various deadly banes (sunlight and fire being most common), can infect humans though their bite and/or bodily fluids, and possess a variety of abilities befitting their particularly predatory lifestyle. The Commission has historically maintained a working relationship with several of the more sociable strains, but their tendency to infiltrate and subvert mortal institutions to serve their own agendas means that they must be kept under constant vigilance; the bloody catastrophe of SPIDER QUEEN DENMARK and the resulting purges serves as an example of how swiftly they can exploit any perceived weaknesses.

BISHOP is the codename for any form of “willworker”, an otherwise-mundane human able to reshape reality around them through sheer force of will and imagination: in unofficial parlance, they are called witches, mages, necromancers, etc., though these terms can also refer to similar individuals with much more limited abilities. Though many practitioners specialize in a specific form of magic, BISHOPS are limited more in scale than in scope: an observer effect makes it exponentially more strenuous for them to superimpose their own idealized will on the world while under observation, most require the use of ritual trappings in order to focus their willpower, and attempting too dramatic an effect risks stroke, seizure, or other backlash. The more powerful ARCHBISHOP is also subject to of these limitations, but to a drastically-reduced degree and can overcome the observer bias with much less effort; the even more potent CARDINALS have unmatched control over their local reality and are considered serious enough threats that those who have not signed binding contracts with the Commission are the targets of highly-specialized wetwork teams.

Dwellers in the dark recesses of the benthic zone, GOLDSMITH are not the only inhuman civilization in the world’s oceans, but they are one of the largest and certainly the one most likely to interact with humans. Short, hunched piscine humanoids with slick, membranous skin and bulging eyes, their codename comes from the fact that the only garments they have ever been observed wearing are pieces of incredibly ornate jewelry crafted from a gold-like alloy whose exact composition has eluded scientists for decades. Throughout human history, there are substantiated reports of GOLDSMITH delegations offering similar artifacts to coastal communities in exchange for healthy tissue samples. What exactly they did with these samples was a mystery until the late 1950s, when it was discovered that they were used to engineer hybrid biological automata codenamed GOLDSMITH IMAGO: in addition to their role disseminating GOLDSMITH genetic markers into the human population, they act as covert operatives and assassins, presumably acting on orders from whatever polity governs their creators. The offspring of a human and IMAGO is always an IMAGO itself, but will imprint as a human if not returned to its benthic handlers, a fact discovered by a Moscow Hotel research team. During the height of the Cold War, both sides experimented with breeding their own IMAGOS for deep-sea operations, but it was discovered that their genetic memories are automatically triggered at sufficient depths, rendering unprepared hybrids psychotic. The existence of the GOLDSMITH IMAGO entities, along with their apparent bemusement at human attempts to duplicate their creations, seems to indicate that GOLDSMITH civilization had mastered the science of genetic engineering by at least the first century BCE. Currently, emissaries have been reported offering Commission field agents valuable (largely naval) intelligence, artifact weaponry, even the service of IMAGO operatives, in exchange for tissue samples from other occult entities. The assumption of most analysts is their goal is to develop more powerful hybrid agents, though it is unknown what is prompting this recent development. IMAGO have also been seen cooperating with multiple Illuminati groups, indicating that either GOLDSMITH is not discriminating with its offers or said groups have the ability to breed their own hybrids. Neither scenario is ideal.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Humabout on October 07, 2013, 03:54:29 PM
Just wanted to say I adore this setting.  It is so over-the-top in exactly the right way that it just puts me in the perfect mood to read about it before the first sentence has passed.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on November 28, 2015, 07:52:26 PM
So I'd forgotten that people actually liked this idea and with the comparisons drawn between the Commission and Illuminati Mambo, I figured now would be as good a time as any to come back and add some more recent ideas that might help to better distinguish the two concepts thematically.

The main change to the Commission itself is that it and the architects of Project THIMBLE VINEYARD are no longer one and the same. Rather, the Commission is an international and staggeringly-illegal task force formed once military and intelligence leaders realized what the actual implementation of the plan would’ve entailed and decided that someone needed to answer for it. And for about a decade, the Commission had their enemies (who I’m tentatively calling the Architects or the Vintners) running scared, until billions of dollars in unrestricted post-9/11 funding began pouring down the wrong channels of America’s labyrinthine military-intelligence-industrial complex and fed the monsters hiding within. The remnants of THIMBLE VINEYARD are spread across a distributed, multicellular conspiracy that has used the chaos of the Global War on Terror burrow even deeper into the underworld, its surviving component parts all the more dangerous for being deprived any sort of unifying purpose, like a single hydra hacked into a hundred venomous serpents.

Both the Commission and the Vintners were entangled in the enormous collective bed-shitting that capped off the orgy of poor decisions that was the US occupation of Iraq and the related Syrian Civil War. ISIS forces have managed to get their hands on THIMBLE VINEYARD components originally placed in the region during the Saddam era. Isolated units are believed to have already deployed THIRD RACE and TOWER BUILDER-derived weaponry against both Syrian Army and FSA forces; their success almost certainly implicates Vintner involvement in some capacity. Cypress has been pinpointed as the likeliest starting point for the smuggling pipeline that is funneling occult weapons and personnel into the region. With foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War escalating, it is crucial that this pipeline be cut before ISIS is given the proper motivation to deploy the occult WMDs in their possession.

The dismantling of the TEQUILA SUNSPOT program was entrusted to various elite Latin American special forces units; unfortunately, members of many of those same units have since been recruited by the drug cartels that have become a dominant force in the region. In particular, the kidnapping and gruesome execution of several foreign nationals by the Los Zetas cartel suggest that they are in possession of a HUNGRY MICHIGAN death-engine and are powering it via human sacrifice. While there is little reason to suspect apocalyptic intentions on the part of the cartels, the idea of them having the capacity to create and deploy CARNIVORE GREEN-class operatives represents too great a risk to not take action.

What we know: Putin has been made aware of the STALINIST GOTHIC assets and according to former Moscow Hotel personnel that have since been reabsorbed into the GRU, he is favorably inclined towards their redeployment. Individuals believed to be vectors for FURNACE BIRD and DEATHLESS were spotted being escorted into the newly-annexed Crimea by masked Russian troops. Not all aware of their presence are in favor of it, but it has long been suspected that STALINIST GOTHIC vectors have some sort of Dead Hand-style trigger built into them, so elimination is not a viable option.

There is a plane, a modified Lockheed C-5 Super Galaxy cargo aircraft, which is impossible to track. Without fail, shortly after takeoff, it climbs to sixty thousand feet and disappears without a trace. Sometime later, whether a matter of hours or days, it reappears somewhere completely different. Wherever it lands, occult horrors the likes of which few have ever imagined flood the black market. Those who know of the planes existence call it “the Nightmare Merchant” and based off of the account of the one and only source who glimpsed the inside while it was taxiing in Istanbul, Vintner scientists are utilizing it as both a laboratory and bazaar, entering an alternate dimension to conduct their experiments and trade notes with monstrous intelligences, before landing to sell their creations off to the highest bidders.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rose-of-Vellum on November 28, 2015, 08:52:20 PM
Love it.

What kind of system would you use to hypothetically run a game in this setting?

Add TEQUILA SUNSPOT to my list of favorite code-names, which includes the like of SPIDER QUEEN DENMARK, MEMPHIS BITUMEN, TELEPHONE ZIGGURAT, THIMBLE VINEYARD, TYPEWRITER CARNIVORE, MONSTER CRECHE, GOLDSMITH IMAGO.

I likewise love the 2-3 distinct time-periods presented.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rhamnousia on November 29, 2015, 09:43:00 AM
I'd be using essentially the same Night's Black Agents version of the GUMSHOE system that I'd use with an Iluminati game.


Title: Re: The Commission (Black Chamber Reimagining)
Post by: Rose-of-Vellum on November 29, 2015, 05:21:14 PM
I'll have to check said system out.