The Ghost State Campaign

Cover to Night's Black Agent

So this is part of the rpg campaign announcement/pitch I sent to my gaming group last week:

You are a field agent of the European Internal Action Service (EIAS), a secret organization within the European Union tasked with monitoring and defending the internal security of the nascent supranational state. You have worked for the EIAS for only a few months (give or take) in a department known as J-Section, spending most of your time on routine signals surveillance of EU and nation-state bureaucrats (mostly doing INDECT database queries, followups on INTCEN analysis reports, and, very rarely, traditional on-the-ground spying). Through this somewhat tedious work, you have become casually acquainted with several other field agents in your department. It seems, all in all, a decent if bland place to work. Not every spy can be James Bond after all.

Two days ago, you received an encrypted email from Gregor Baumann, Assistant Director of Operations for the EIAS, with whom you have never directly spoken to before. In it, Baumann notified you that you were being effectively transferred to a new operational department within J-Section, which he described as PROJECT GHOST STATE, but that you were not to speak of this with any of your co-workers until after the organizational meeting, scheduled for 7pm on Friday, October 11, 2013 in a private room of an Irish pub called O’Duibheamhna’s, located just outside the city center of Brussels.

Five minutes after opening and decrypting this email, the EIAS servers seemingly purged it from the system, leaving behind no trace or remnant.


For the last few years, I’ve been enjoying a resurgent interest in tabletop role-playing games. This is mainly down to me finding a great group of players who can play on a relatively consistent basis. We’ve spent a lot of time playing various Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaigns or other D&D-derived games (e.g., The Fantasy Trip, Dungeonworld, Adventurer Conqueror King), as well as other systems that piqued our interest (e.g., the original Marvel Super Heroes game, Mongoose Traveller, Spycraft, Other Dust).

My last campaign, called First Cities, was built around D&D 3rd Edition, but using a variant called E6 that capped advancement at level 6 (which helps mitigate certain issues with scale in 3rd Edition D&D). Setting-wise, it was a Bronze Age hack of D&D, using analogs of the cultures and societies of the Ancient Near East. My other blog, He Who Saw The Deep, has several posts examining how I created and developed that campaign, for those that might be interested. I mention it here because when I finished with that campaign a few months ago, I found myself a bit burnt out on the ancient and medieval focus of most D&D-based rpgs. I wanted something completely different in tone, scope, and prep. Hence, the Ghost State Campaign was born.


Ghost State is my supernatural spy thriller campaign using Ken Hite’s Night’s Black Agents (NBA) rpg as the rules set. Hite built NBA using the GUMSHOE System created by Robin Laws, which means the game is less about player investigations being stopped cold by bad die rolls and more about driving investigative stories forward in an organic and exciting way. To me, the GUMSHOE System and NBA strike me as a hybrid between a traditional rpg and indie story games like Fiasco or Durance. It has some intriguing rules crunchiness without being a huge mess of rules and tables other espionage games like Spycraft tend to be. It’s free-flowing investigation system seems like the perfect rules set to build an espionage game around. And the supernatural focus simply adds another level of spice to the whole stew.

As the campaign call revealed above, the players will be part of a secret (and wholly made-up) European Union spy agency that is working to uncover the dark and supernatural heart that exists at the core of European politics today. This conspiracy (or layers of conspiracy — I can’t get too specific here because the players haven’t even had a chance to investigate yet) has supernatural roots stretching back into ancient European history, but the immediate game setting is one also informed by current real-world events. Hell, I wrote up a game handout on Tuesday that was entirely inspired by an Ars Technica article that popped up in my RSS reader that day (Newsblur, if you care). Unlike First Cities, where I had to do an intense amount of almost specialized research to craft that setting, Ghost State is all about grafting my supernatural mythos on contemporary Europe. In this, Google is very much my friend.


Ultimately, with this campaign, I’ve merged my scholarly interests in the European Union and European integration with my rpg gaming fetish, which in turn means the verisimilitude of my Ghost State Europe setting is informed by my demonstrative expertise in contemporary European history and politics. It also allows me to do geeky and awesome prep like developing my own Sensitive Compartmented Information classification system for the EIAS’s loose intelligence files. You can see an example of the intelligence file cover sheet I worked up below:

j-section snip

This PDF┬áis also a full Loose Intelligence Dossier for my players, which means it’s a piece of unassigned intelligence (i.e. a loose lead) that they can or cannot follow up on at their leisure. This is the fun stuff when it comes to game prep, that’s for sure.

My plan is to provide periodic updates on the campaign’s progress. What form that takes will vary depending upon whether it’s something I’ve put together or if some players get ambitious and produce after action reports.

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