Rendez-vous in Algiers

Algiers, quick and dirty

(Source : http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/map/google_map_Algiers.htm )

Algiers is one of the most important seaports in North Africa and the main administrative, commercial, economic, financial and political center in Algeria.

“Alger la Blanche” the “White City” has a population of about 1.5 million inhabitants more than 3 million live in its metropolitan area. Official language is Arabic, Tamazight (Berber languages) and French are in use.

History (short version)
Founded by the Phoenicians, and later a Roman town, it disappeared after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was revived under the Zirid dynasty c. a.d. 980 and became the main stronghold of the Barbary States following its capture by the pirate Barbarossa in 1516.

On 30 June 1815, a treaty was signed here between Algeria and the United States that ended the Algerian War. It was conquered by the French in 1830 at the start of their conquest of Algeria. The city fell to the Allies on 8 November 1942, during World War II, and was thereafter an Allied headquarters. From 23 June 1943 to 31 August 1944 it was the provisional capital of France under President Charles de Gaulle. It was a major center of activity during the Algerian struggle for independence and was the site of General Salan’s putsch of 13 May 1958, which toppled the French Fourth Republic and restored de Gaulle to power.

algier-city-map

The Setup

During their encounter with Nigerian pirates off the coast of Cyprus, Victor was able to recognize one of the leader of the assault and make a deal with him. If they were let go, he would agree to meet in Algiers. It seems that Victor had some extra-curricular activities during Operation Licorne in Côte D’Ivoire [2002] on the border of Liberia. Using the conflict as a cover, the french government made a deal with then Liberia President Charles Taylor to supply his troops with weapons and military equipment in exchange for large quantities of gold and diamonds. France wanted to stock up on hard currency to better resist the next market crisis.

Victor was in charge of one of these columns, where he often had to deal with shady characters like Namie Mbanefo. Victor had to suffer their lack of human decency and often watch as Liberia’s troop raped and pillaged the small villages on the convoy’s road. Once the convoy entered Liberia’s national borders, Victor was subjected to the whims of General Nawvlee Maurice. A man that, in Victor view, never did one day of basic training and would not last an hour in the french army. Under order to behave and make sure the transfer went well, the french soldier had to watch as beasts were goaded in attacking and devouring poor helpless farmers for the pleasure of General Maurice and his high ranking staff. While they smoked rare Cuban cigars and enjoyed the attentions of the farmers wifes and daughters. Did Victor partake in the “festivities”?

Having been given the temporary rank of Capitaine for these missions, Victor was expected to leave no traces of France involvement. How did he manage this?

Country hospital near a dirt road. The heat and humidity are off the chart, black flies assault the dead, the sick and the living.

“Capitaine Henri, nous avons un problème, les troupes du Général Maurice ont causé des problèmes graves, très graves. Nos alliés ne peuvent apprendre ce que nous sommes en train de faire, mais le putain de Général menace de tout raconter si nous ne règlons pas son problème. Henri nous ne pouvons nous permettre que cette histoire sorte au grand jour. Nettoyer tout.”

Fast forward 10 years, Victor is no longer in the DGSE. Charles Taylor has been declared guilty of crimes against humanity on April 26th 2012 and sentenced to 50 years in prison. In the last 10 years, Victor tried everything to get away from the place that nearly took his soul, but it seems he will need to deal with what he did for better or worse.

The meet is setup to take place at Maqam Echahid [Martyrs’ Memorial]. Upon arrival the agents are met by a young boy, about 12 years old, wearing an old yellow Nike T-Shirt and way too large Air Jordan shoes. He will redirect them to the Saint-Eugène cemetery, letting them know that they should really visit the tomb of Ranavalona III.

“Monsieur Namie ne vous fait pas confiance, il veut s’assurer que personne ne vous suit. Rendez-vous au cimetière Saint-Eugène, porter un chandail rouge. “

When the Agents arrive at Ravalona’s tomb they read a plaque that details the history of the Queen. With a note at the end of the plaque informing them that more information can be found in the Notre-Dame d’Afrique basilica. The agents will then get on the cable car and finally meet Namie Mbanefo.

“Ranavalona III (22 novembre 1861 – 23 mai 1917) fut la dernière souveraine du Royaume de Madagascar. Elle regna du 30 juillet 1883 au 28 février 1897. Son règne fut marqué d’efforts futiles pour résister aux desseins coloniaux de la France. Veuillez visiter l’exposition permanente dans la basilique pour plus d’informations.”

He will be sorry, not really, of the steps he made the agents take and get down to business. He will address Victor directly without even acknowledging the other agents.

“My backer needs something done, quickly, cleanly. That’s why I accepted your offer, you were offering me an unexpected solution. Thank you for that.”

“In the envelope is a small problem that needs to be taken care of, this problem will be present at the African Union Peace And Security Council in 3 days, in Algiers. Security will be strong, but nothing someone of your ability cannot take care of. Once this small problem is taken care of, we’ll be squared. And if you ever take vacation in Liberia, look me up.”

The envelope contains the picture of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her schedule for the African Union Peace and Security Council. The quality of the provided information indicates that this was provided from an inside source of her security detail. If Victor tries to negotiate, he will be able to offer up to 250000 US dollars, if pushed he will decline to offer more, and will make it clear that the Agents are no longer in Europe and anything might happen.

Cast of characters

Namie Mbanefo – Nigerian Pirate, Formerly aide de camp to General Nawvlee Maurice.

General Nawvlee Maurice – Liberia regional dictator in 2002 under Charles Taylor – (River Gee, Capital Fish Town), Currently working to overthrow Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (need) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellen_Johnson_Sirleaf], would like to come back to Liberia as a saviour. He currently lives in Paris following his immunity deal to testify against Charles Taylor.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

In 1997, she financed the presidential campaign of Charles Taylor.
November 23, 2005 – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is declared the president of the Republic of Liberia.
October 7, 2011 – Wins Peace Nobel prize
January 16, 2012 – Wins her second mandate as President of the Republic of Liberia

Behind the scenes

General Nawvlee Maurice knows that Ellen Johnson will be at the African Nation Conference in Algiers in 3 days, he wants her eliminated. DynCorp is backing the effort through its Integrated Defense Systems Division, they want access to Liberia mining resources – mostly gold, silica and kyanite. They are currently backing Generals Maurice plan by giving him money and weapons for him to seize power, but they do not want to get their hands dirty by eliminating President Johnson. DynCorp’s plan is to make General Maurice take care of it so that it cannot be traced back to them.

Mbanefo seeing an opportunity felt that the agents were the best scapegoats to pull off the wet work without linking the hit back to General Maurice. At the same time he hopes to gain standing in the newly formed Liberia government.

The Troubles

A Drama System series pitch

[Hillfolk Website]

Nutshell

Working class people struggle to keep their families united in face of discrimination from another culture. Protestants and catholics fight one another to determine the status of Northern Ireland. The protestants are backed by the British government and troops creating an atmosphere of oppression for the catholic community. The characters might be members of an Active Service Unit from the Provisional Irish Republican Army, simple citizens trying to make a difference.

This setting deals with strong religious/cultural discrimination between the people that live in Northern Ireland; this might not be for everybody, as it might acerbate real conflict around your table. Please discuss it with your players if you believe this can happen.

Characters

Pub Owner
Dock Worker
Informant*
Priest
Ulster Defence Regiment soldier (UDR)
Worker representative
Political Organizer – Sinn Fein
Thug
ASU – Quartermaster
Low Level member of government (clerical)

*High Tension

To add some tension, you could allow a player to take on the role of informant to the government/military/other group. If you wish to do so, do not let the players know who is the informant. This will give your game extra tension, and the feeling of a cramped setting. You could also not let anybody know about it, except the player of the informant. This way it will give the players two information to discover during play.

“How could the police have known about our meeting tonight?”

“Who’s the rat?”

Setting

It is the 80’s, tensions run high in Belfast. The peace process fails every other week. Have you any hope for the peace process? Do you believe the solution to the conflict is political? The characters are the working class of Belfast, they have lower end wages and have a strong sense of their community. They are strongly catholic or protestant and hate viscerally the other group. – Do you really care about religious affiliation? Or is this more of a way to differentiate yourself from the Other? For the catholics it stems from years of discrimination, unjust treatment and the fear that they could be detained for any reason. For both community in addition to the primal fear of the Other, they have to content with a high unemployment rate – What do people spend their time on? – Where do the lucky ones work at?, Is it unionized?, a housing crisis – Where do homeless people live? – and random violence that can erupt at any moment. Often only separated by a street or two, catholics and protestants must live with one another, work in the same shops, share the same neighborhood, and hope to see another gloomy day. Do you know people from the other side?

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Troubles
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles
http://www.theguardian.com/Northern_Ireland/flash/0,6189,344683,00.html
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107207/

Themes

Love
Discipline
Trust
Identity
Loyalty
Commitment
Revenge
Betrayal
Paranoia
Forgiveness
Buried Secrets

Tightening the Screws

  • The daughter of one of the players starts dating a boy from the other area.
  • The other group beats up an uninvolved citizen and her kids, will you let it go?
  • The local council allocated an empty house to a single girl of 19 (secretary of a local politician) instead of two homeless families.
  • A pacific march was harassed and attacked by the loyalists and off-duty cops.
  • The other groups bombed water and electrical services blaming you.
  • Some republican prisoners have started a hunger strike, how will you show support? Will you protest against their supporters?
    • What if some of the prisoners die?
  • Weapons coming from Libya/South Africa are arriving next week, how will you handle the transfer and payment? How will you send the weapons to the different groups?
  • British troops are stepping up pressure after the bombing of a club frequented by British soldiers.
  • A cease fire has been declared, will you be the one to break it? How will you respond when taunted to break it?
  • Elections will be held shortly, some advocate disrupting the process. Where do you stand on the issue?

Additional Elements

The setting is really geared for the players to play the roles of Irish nationalists and republicans, I feel this is where the most drama can come from. Since the unionists and loyalists are often backed by the British government, it is easy to use as a plot device to really tighten the screws on the players. I see no reason why your players couldn’t play the loyalists, or even members of both group.

Names

Male Given Names

Female Given Names

Surnames

Jeffrey Margaret Young
William Elizabeth Walker
James Pamela Wardlow
John Aoife Parry
Francis Emily O’Sullivan
Aidan Áine Ryan
Liam Lisa Sweeney
Conor Sorcha MacDermott
Eoghan Isobel O’Rourke
Colin Kathleen Hogan

Places

West Belfast Peace Line
Falls Road
Shankill Road
Short Strand
Cluan Place

Baldak Shipping co.

The Baldak Shipping Corporation is owned and operated by a 63 years old Romanian named Vasily Milea. Documents show that Vasily was an important member of the Romanian Communist party, but following the collapse of the Soviet Union he used his numerous contacts to create a small monetary empire. As a good capitalist, seeing that the illegal trade was getting locked up by former high ranking KGB personnel, he came up with a service geared exactly for these types of trade. Complete anonymity for the shipper by creating perfectly forged shipping manifests. The service offered by Baldak Shipping Co. also include the payment of substantial fees to political figure and local and regional police to insure that the goods make it through without any problems.

The Baldak headquarters are located in Constanta, Romania (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constanta). Smaller offices are present in most major train stations, ports and airports throughout eastern Europe. Vasily operates these offices exactly like terrorist cells, with the local members never knowing that the content of the containers are mostly illegal goods. Once a docker begins to suspect something is weird, one of Vasily lieutenant determines the potential and loyalty of the employee and if this not positive he is quickly dispatched. Loyal employees are often rewarded with a local office of their own.

In regards to the conspiracy, Vasily or any member of Baldak Shipping are currently completely unaware of anything untoward with the content they are shipping. They are happy the Mafiya is trusting them and using their services, but they do not suspect any alien or paranormal event is taking place, not that he would really care. As long as the aliens pay, business will remain business.

Dealing with uncertainties

Let me break Kayfabe for a moment, don’t worry it should not happen often.

As you probably know by now (if you read the rest of the posts), we are currently playing a game called Night’s Black Agents (NBA) by Kenneth Hite (see Pelgrane Press Site) based on the GUMSHOE system by Robin D. Law. And if you look at my first post you will see some of the reasons (I could/should have gone in more details then) why I like the GUMSHOE system so much.

The reason I break Kayfabe today is due to an event that happened in our last game. In short I was planning to have the Agents (PC in the world of NBA) attacked by some Nigerian pirates off the coast of Cyprus. In my mind this was pretty set as a combat encounter, the players would deal with the threat and go on to the actual operation knowing that the bad guys were really pissed off. Using the NBA system to its core a player managed to stave off the threat by “creating” a Nigerian contact and asked if he would be on the boat by any chance.

Now as most gamemasters probably know, this is really hard to deal with, even after reading “Play Unsafe” by Graham Walmsley, it can be daunting to venture in the unknown of letting other people add and create “unlicensed content”. I’ve got this comment from one of the other player in the very same game, a player with many years of role-playing experience. She was of the impression that giving that much control of game content to players would only results in problem.

Looking at it more deeply later on, I think what she was saying was that letting the inmates run the asylum would be probably break the rest of the game planning. That got me thinking on the medium itself, role-playing, and the games that form the rule structure that allows us to tell stories. She was right that letting players have that much control over creative content would break many story based medium but not all, and should never ever break role-playing. Role-playing is not a single person affair, it’s not story telling, it’s story making.

Going back a few years, for you youngsters imagine a world without the internets. Roaming the Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) we often created stories on forums called “Neverending Stories”, a never ending story was started by any forum dweller. In which they wrote about a page of text,  the next post coming from someone else took the story to yet another unknown location. To be able to write these you needed to take whatever was given and take to its next step.

Going back to most tabletop role-playing games I’ve played in the past, both as a GM and player (see the distinction here), player inputs has been mostly regarded with amusement or in the extreme case disinterest. First and foremost because any player suggestion of this kind could risk breaking the game master  / storyteller story. I have been guilty of not letting player input in my games, looking back this is pretty sad. It was me, I figure I am not alone here, confusing the medium. Role-playing and story based gaming are not story telling. Now that would break traditional gaming (board and computer alike) flow, but role-playing and improvisation will not break, they should even be strengthen by these types of players input.

The problem at that point is not an issue of player input, or even breaking the story arc, it’s confusing the medium. For several years we have approached role-playing as storyTELLERS and gameMASTERS which by definition implies some form of command, control and communication, the writers of these various games  perpetuated the problem by using these terms. Frankly it does not work. At least for me, and for some others I’ve seen, they let the title overpower everything else. Why is it so hard to deal with? As a game MASTER, I get to believe that I decide everything that comes up in the world. The world is my responsibility, any NPC actions, any events, anything. It also implies I am to be the sole provider of fun at the table, and if at the end of the night I was a bit off, then the players can blame me. In a game with five players, one of which in the GM, it means that 80% of the potential creative juice can blame the other 20% for not having a good time.

So most people responded in two ways, first they overworked their games, putting countless hours in designing completely railroaded sessions that would make sure that the players would find the story entertaining. Thus was reborn the dungeon crawl, disguised under the trope of Mage needs crew to retrieve artifact, crew does deed, gets screwd over by said mage, exposes/destroys evil mage, gets the tresor. We got this handed to us one way or another for the past 15 years, and since that’s all we got we took to it like junkies for one last hit.

The other more pervasive problem is that some players just threw their hands up and stopped/never tried to be gamemasters, gaming became/was hard. In my opinion Role-Playing should never be hard, it should just be fun. It should provide escapism for a moment, it should make me a boy playing with toy figures in the backyard inventing stories that only I knew the complexity and deepness of. When playing these crazy games in my backyard, most often with my brother, there were no real rules, just us inventing stuff on the fly, as needed and having a blast. Following this rather simple idea, please take a look at most modern RPG system character sheets, are they simple? They are black belt level mathematics, for a hobby. They transform ideas in formulas and then tell people that they can’t do stuff because the mystical rule set said so. For frak sake, dragons are flying around burning a village while the corrupt prince is accepting bribes from the barbarian tribes and the rules are telling a player that he can’t jump over a running horse while holding a torch to light the armory to destroy the fortified position of the corrupt prince, WAT?

At that moment creativity is destroyed, and the player becomes a passive participant. Might as well watch Law & Order. And I won’t talk about gaming session where some players are mostly reading through the rules to be able to do something that should be resolved organically at the table, by the player themselves and not some meta lawyer represented by an abstract rule set.

But “It is make believe, you can do anything you want” says the first time gamer at the table, while veterans sadly envying the innocence of the newly arrived recruit. The noob is right, we are wrong, the fact to the matter is, we are playing games to feel like kids, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, space dudes and aliens, we should be allowed/encouraged to dream impossible dreams, we should strive to offer the new players a mirage of reality instead of the harsh mathematical coldness of rules.

Reading the Fiasco companion foreword by Wil Wheaton, of Über Geek Fame, told us that Fiasco gave him a window to what role-playing gave him when it was fun… While I do agree with Mr. Wheaton on this, Fiasco is fun, Fiasco is role-playing at its core. I also believe that it should apply to any role-playing game.

I love role-playing because on the best of days, when I play,I feel like a young boy again, playing in the backyard with my brother, dreaming impossible dreams.