Sorcery & Noir

I’m still talking about sword noir. I’m wondering if anyone is still listening? Er, I guess that would be writing and reading, but you know what I mean.

The basis for all this has been a definition of sword noir I provided here.

So what is sword noir as a genre? Characters morals are shifting at best and absent at worst. The atmosphere is dark and hope is frail or completely absent. Violence is deadly and fast. The characters are good at what they do, but they are specialists. Trust is the most valued of commodities–life is the cheapest. Grim leaders weave labyrinthine plots which entangle innocents. Magic exists and can be powerful, but it takes extreme dedication to learn, extorts a horrible price, and is slow to conjure.

This time, I want to look at something that comes from the “sword” part of sword noir.

Magic exists and can be powerful, but it takes extreme dedication to learn, extorts a horrible price, and is slow to conjure.

I cribbed this from my understanding of sword & sorcery. This is the magic of Conan and Lankhmar. Different than the flash and explosions of the average D&D game, it is more mysterious, and sometimes much more deadly.

Does one need magic for something to be sword noir? Magic is as much a part of sword & sorcery as, . . . well, as swords. It is a part of Conan’s world and is certainly a part of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s. Whether it is a part of Solomon Kane’s word might be open to debate, but he certainly thinks it is, and its effects are there to be seen.

Now, I hope you will forgive me, but these three series are the basis for my understanding of sword & sorcery. As such, they have become the basis for my aspirations for sword noir. If you’ve been reading this series, you might also note the preponderance of references to the movies the Maltese Falcon and Out of the Past. These two movies were seminal in getting me interested in noir. Putting these five elements together, and you’ve got sword noir.

Anyway, about the magic, I do think it is necessary. It does not need to dominate, but I believe it must be present, even if only in the superstitions and beliefs of those who inhabit the world of sword noir. It is easy to wave away such belief as superstition, in fact, because of the scarcity of magic in the setting. Think about it, if it takes extreme dedication and extorts a horrible price, how many practitioners do you think are wandering around? And they certainly aren’t doing parlour tricks for the local peasants.

This extreme dedication to learn may mean that the centres of learning are secretive and inaccessible. It may mean that there are no centres of learning and that the lost knowledge known only to a few must be hunted down and taken from those who already hold it. Whatever the reason, it is not for the impatient or the dilettante. Learning even the weakest of spells may be an epic quest of itself, suitable for an entire campaign!

And once you have learned these secrets, it doesn’t cost points or fatigue or mana. It will likely cost your very soul. Very few of the wizards one finds in S&S are what might be called good. There is N’Longa the shaman, friend of Solomon Kane. One might consider Sheelba and Ningauble good, given that they are linked to the heroes of Leiber’s Lankhmar stories, but their actions are too often self-interested. And the Gray Mouser dabbles, but not even he considers himself a good hero.

So there are some that have either overcome the taint of magic or avoided it somehow. Most wizards and warlocks in the lands of S&S, and therefore the lands of sword noir, have succumbed to madness or evil. Magic is inherently unnatural, and so perhaps it follows that those whom possess it become inhuman.

Finally, the magic of sword noir is not the quick spell of a few words and a motion that Cugel might ply on one—and that finally found its way into the rules of D&D. The magic of sword noir is, for lack of a better term, ritual magic. It is about incantations and rituals. Rites that lead back to the most ancient of times. Do these ceremonies contact ancient spirits, otherworldly beings, or just tap mystical energies hidden beyond the curtain of realities? Who is to say (well, the GM of course!). Whatever the source of magic, its invocation is time consuming, and the greater the power, the greater the length of the ritual.

For this reason, magic is often not important in combat. However, items might be enscorceled and carry powerful enchantments. Perhaps an individual herself has had spells of exceptional power cast on her, making her far more formidable than she already is.

So there you have it. The definition dissected. My ideas elaborated. What more is there to say?

There are the stories. Right now, I have only two that have been published, but a third is scheduled to be. None of them are pure sword noir, but I don’t think any story is pure of theme or genre in any meaningful sense. I think these stories helped to define sword noir, just as I am trying to now use sword noir to define my stories.

You can read “Flotsam Jewel” in the June 2006 issue of Forgotten Worlds, that is, if you can find it. The venue went bust just as this issue was being published. I didn’t even see my contributor copies, and I know there were people interested in getting this story that simply couldn’t.  This was the first story in which I intentionally included elements of noir, and it was set in Hadrapole.

The second Hadrapole story to be written was also the second to see publication. You can read “For Simple Coin” in the Winter 2009 issue of On Spec, available here.

Black Gate will be presenting “A Pound of Dead Flesh,” though I don’t know when. While the setting was inspired in part by Imperial Rome and in part by Celtic Britain, the characters and their predicament was specifically intended as a riff on noir, and so might be considered my first real sword noir story, though given the setting, it might be better described as sandal noir.

Here’s hoping there’ll be more stories for you to read that give you that sword noir feel.

Mundus Novit: Alexander Scott, Drift Operative

You’ve been introduced to the Vault, one of the organizations that you might find in Mundus Novit, and one that has a pretty important role in Dark Horizons. Now let’s meet one of the characters, statted up using the Mundus Novit Modern System supplement.

Alexander Scott, Drift Operative
Alexander Scott began his career as part of the Canadian Forces. He completed basic training just after the Somalia Affair and the disbanding of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. The prestige of the Forces was at an all-time low. This did not deter Scott, who volunteered for any training and any mission. He got noticed. His career became the stuff of legends.

By 2000, Scott had become a part of Security Reconnaissance Group, an off-the-books black ops unit operating in a deniable fashion. Joint Task Force Two was the high profile, high speed, door kickers, while the SRG worked in the shadows, and did everything nice and quiet. By 2002, Scott was working in Pakistan, running operations against the Taliban and Al-Quaeda. He built up a number of contacts in the region, and became the go-to guy for troubleshooting.

That’s when Drift came calling. By 2006, Scott had been involved in seven different rescue/evacuation/kinetic exfiltration events, all successful. Two members of Operation Drift came to debrief him in Islamabad on the understanding that they wanted to learn from his missions. At the end of the five day debrief, Scott was offered a position with Drift. At first he declined, but when an eighth rescue went south due to lack of resources and poor inter-agency cooperation, Scott asked if the offer was still open.

It was.

Scott ran multiple operations in South and Central Asia. Most were successful, though certainly not all. It was during an exfiltration of a British asset from Uzbekistan that Scott ran into Rudi the Russian. Rudi was already famous as a fixer in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Rudi proved a man of his word, if a little too mercenary for Scott to completely trust him.

In 2009, Scott officially left Drift. There is no record of the reason nor is there any indication of his whereabouts.

That is, until Lt. Rebecca Kim of the Advanced Tactics Action Company (C Company, 1st Battalion, NATO Response Command, Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps, NATO) tracked him to Monrovia in Liberia.

Smart Hero 4/ Fast Hero 3/ Soldier 2/ Infiltrator 3/ Drift Training 3: CR 15; 41-year old Male; HD 4d6+4 plus 3d8+3 plus 2d10+2 plus 3d8+3 plus 3d8+3; hp 101; MAS 13; Init +6; Spd 30ft.; Def 28, touch 25, flatfooted 26; BAB +8/+3; Grap +8/+3; Atk +8/+3 melee (1d4, combat knife), or +11/+6 ranged (2d6+2, MP7), or +10/+5 ranged (2d6, LDA pistol); FS 5 ft. by 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.; AL Drift, NATO, Canadian Forces; SV Fort +8, Ref +12, Will +8; AP 7; Rep +4; Str 11, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 16, Wis 14, Cha 15.

Skills: (modifiers in parentheses include armour penalty) Balance +6 (+4), Bluff +12, Computer Use +10, Craft (chemical) +4, Craft (electronic) +5, Craft (mechanical) +5, Craft (pharmaceutical) +5, Craft (structural) +4, Decipher Script +7, Demolitions +9, Diplomacy +8, Disguise +12, Disable Device +11, Escape Artist +8 (+6), Forgery +8, Gather Information +8, Hide +14 (+12), Intimidate +8, Investigate +5, Knowledge (behavioural sciences) +7, Knowledge (civics) +7, Knowledge (current events) +7, Knowledge (earth and life sciences) +4, Knowledge (history) +6, Knowledge (popular culture) +6, Knowledge (streetwise) +10, Knowledge (tactics) +9, Knowledge (technology) +4, Listen +14, Move Silently +14 (+12), Navigate +14, Read/Write Language (Arabic, Dari, English, French, German), Research +5, Search +7, Sense Motive +10, Speak Language (Arabic, Dari, English, French, German, Pashtu), Spot +14, Survival +6.

Feats: Advanced Firearms Proficiency, Alertness, Armour Proficiency (light), Burst Fire, Deceptive, Double Tap, Improved Initiative, Personal Firearms Proficiency, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Quick Reload, Simple Weapons Proficiency, Stealthy, Trustworthy

Talents (Smart Hero): Exploit Weakness, Linguist
Talents (Fast Hero): Evasion, Uncanny Dodge 1
Class Features (Soldier): Weapon Focus (MP7 personal defence weapon), Weapon Specialization (MP7 personal defence weapon)
Class Features (Infiltrator): Sweep, Improvised Implements
Talents (Drift Training): Do You Know Who I Am?, Combat Awareness
Occ: Adventurer (Bluff, Disable Device)
Possessions: H&K MP7 personal defence weapon (laser sight, removable suppressor); 6, 20-round MP7 magazines; Para-Ordnance LDA autoloader pistol in concealed carry holster; 2 LDA magazines; combat knife; binoculars, electro-optical; chem-lights (5); compass; day pack (appears as rucksack, contains MP7 and other equipment); flashlight; PLGR (precision, lightweight GPS receiver); maps, local; multi-purpose tool; night vision goggles (if working at night); tactical radio; undercover vest armour.

Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR) (from Covert Forces Redux)
This is the military variant of the GPS receiver listed in the Modern System Document (variant of the world’s most popular role-playing game). The PLGR uses satellites to verify position to within 20 feet. It has a variety of data outputs, including longitude and latitude, and military coordinates. The PLGR has an in-built anti-countermeasures system and can link to the computers in other vehicles to allow targeting or exfiltration.

radio, tactical (from Covert Forces Redux)
This is a man-portable radio used for short-range communication between members of the same unit. In most situations, every member of a unit will have a tactical radio, which keeps all members connected. The effective range is up to 2 miles. Examples of tactical radios include the UK/PRC-349 and the SABER series of radios.

Heckler & Koch MP7 personal defence weapon (from Covert Forces Redux)
Manufacturer: Heckler & Koch GmbH, Germany
Calibre: 4.6 × 30mm
Barrel Length: 7.1”
Overall Length: 13.5” (stock extended, 21”)
Weight (loaded): 4.2 lbs. (with 20-round magazine)
Safety: Integrated into fire selector.
Sights: Detachable red dot sight included; back up – low profile iron sights
Magazine capacity: 20- or 40-round box magazine

This is a 4.6 x30mm personal defence weapon from Germany. It has a retractable butt stock and can fire in semi-automatic and full automatic fire modes. The MP7 is part of a new breed of sub-compact automatic weapons termed personal defence weapons. The MP7’s cartridge is a high-velocity round designed for use against armoured opponents. While the 4.6mm round performs against armour better than the 9mm used in most submachine guns, it lacks the punch and stopping power of that round. The MP-7 has a top-mounted Picatinny rail system, allowing attachments such as tactical lights or laser aiming modules. It is also designed to accept a suppressor.

With the stock retracted, this weapon grants a +1 circumstance bonus to Sleight of Hand checks made to conceal the weapon. If the 40-round box magazine is used, it incurs a -1 circumstance penalty to Sleight of Hand checks made to conceal the weapon. If the 40-round box magazine is used, and the stock is retracted, the weapon incurs no bonuses or penalties for Sleight of Hand checks made to conceal the weapon.

This weapon has +1 bonus to attack against opponents wearing armour or having natural armour.

Para-Ordnance LDA autoloader pistol
Manufacturer: Para-Ordnance, Canada
Calibre: .45 ACP
Barrel Length: 5”
Overall Length: 8.5”
Weight (loaded): 2.5 lbs.
Safety: Ambidextrous manual safety
Sights: Front, blade; rear, notch, adjustable for windage
Magazine capacity: 14-round box magazine

This .45 ACP autoloader pistol was designed around the M1911 model but with a higher capacity magazine and a double-action trigger pull. The Para-Ordnance began as a Canadian company providing conversion kits for standard M1911A1 pistols to allow for the higher capacity magazines. It branched out into firearms manufacture, and introduced the LDA (light double action) as the first double action M1911 model autoloader pistol.




Damage Type

Range Increment

Rate of Fire




Purchase DC






30 ft.

S, A

20 box


4 lb.







30 ft.


14 box


3 lb.




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Friends of Keyser Soze

I’m back to talk about adapting sword noir into a campaign. This is all based on a rather flippant but workable definition of sword noir I shared here.

So what is sword noir as a genre? Characters morals are shifting at best and absent at worst. The atmosphere is dark and hope is frail or completely absent. Violence is deadly and fast. The characters are good at what they do, but they are specialists. Trust is the most valued of commodities–life is the cheapest. Grim leaders weave labyrinthine plots which entangle innocents. Magic exists and can be powerful, but it takes extreme dedication to learn, extorts a horrible price, and is slow to conjure.

Grim leaders weave labyrinthine plots which entangle innocents.

Let’s unpack that a bit. Who are these grim leaders? I’m going with the Big Bad and the Big Motivator.

The Big Bad is just an appellation for the main villain. A lot of people refer to the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy), who is the antagonist for the ultimate encounter. In sword noir, it’s unlikely the Big Bad will be the challenge for the player characters. The BB tends to set things in motion rather than get involved. Further, the BB is actively trying to keep everyone in the dark about his or her identity and purpose. In the end, the BB should kind of be the Keyser Soze of the story.

And like that… he’s gone.

Unlike Keyser Soze, the BB shouldn’t really get involved in the actual machinations, rubbing elbows with the PCs, even under a pseudonym. Unlike in a movie or a book, there is an obvious difference between the PCs and an NPC, and should there be some internal problem, the suspicion would fall on the NPC. This could be remedied by making one of the PCs the actual BB, but this will only work when there is player buy-in and trust. Making a PC more powerful than the others, and with the purpose of betraying those others, is a rather obvious recipe for dysfunction, unless you are certain your players are all in for that kind of game.

The Big Motivator is the person behind the PCs. It may be the PCs’ employer, ally, or simply a source of information. If the PCs are totally solo, not contacts or connections, there likely isn’t a BM. If there is, the BM is like the BB. The identity of the BM is closely guarded. One does not simply call the BM, the BM will contact you. For the BM, anonymity is protection, the best protection possible.

Given that this is sword noir, the BB is not necessarily evil and the BM is not necessarily good. Morality is shifting and opaque. The characters might be criminals. If not criminals, they exist in a world in which even those whose duty is to protect, spend much of their time profiting. If the characters are not criminals, much of the world around time is criminalized.

Whether they be evil, good, or somewhere in between, both of the “leaders” would be “grim.” Any hint of empathy or ethics would be seen as a weakness to be exploited by those planning to replace said leaders. Their guards are never down, and they must exemplify cold calculation if they are to maintain their lofty positions. As such, while they may have allies, they have no friends, and they will sacrifice whomever needs to be sacrificed to protect themselves and their place of power.

From those places of power, they plan and connive to garner just a little more power, just a little more profit. They may not be top of the food chain, and seek to reach that pinnacle. They may be master criminal of the city, but wish for the inclusion in “respectable” society—that same respectable society that probably turns to the grim leaders when they wish dirty deeds done . . . possibly cheap.

Whatever their aim, the path to their goal is never straight and it is never clear. Their purposes are never truly known, their interests never explicit. The characters may believe that they are stealing from the pimp who double-crossed their boss, only to find out the supposed pimp has nothing of worth, and has the protection of another powerful crime boss. The characters have just put a big target on their chests and have no idea why.

Someday, maybe they’ll figure it out. Probably not.

Think of the Maltese Falcon. Who are all these characters, and what are they trying to achieve? Think of Out of the Past. Who is telling the truth and does it matter?

Granted, this can be overdone. Don’t leave the players totally bewildered. Before getting too deep into a plot, make sure at least some of the loose threads from the last one have been tied up. Be sure to give closure on some mysteries before adding new ones or you risk fatiguing your players, which will lead to a lack of interest. The number of times I’ve said you need player buy-in can lead you to guess pretty accurately what will likely happen to your game when the players start losing interest.

And don’t forget the innocents. Sometimes, this could be the characters themselves. Though not strictly a noir, think of the Roger Thornhill character in North by Northwest—the innocent man mistaken for another that gets dragged into a pretty labyrinthine plot. The innocents may also be those simply caught up in events, who may or may not have ties to the characters. Remember, the leaders are grim. Sacrificing a few nobodies won’t matter to them at all, be that sacrifice financial, ethical, or lethal.

The final aspect of the description is one that originates with sword & sorcery rather than noir.

Magic exists and can be powerful, but it takes extreme dedication to learn, extorts a horrible price, and is slow to conjure.

We’ll discuss that next.

The Osiris Campaign: System and Style

I am two sessions into my first Mundus Novit campaign using Mutants & Masterminds (Second Edition). It’s interesting how a rules set and player interest can change a game’s direction.

I know True20 pretty well. I’ve run a few different games with it (so far, two “historical/alt history” and one modern spec ops) and I like the feel of True20. While I don’t think the Powers as presented in True20 Revised fit my conception of Mundus Novit, it certainly could fit yours. The odd thing is that with just the inclusion of a -2 penalty on actions for being Wounded, True20 feels more “gritty” than M&M. Not actually gritty, just in comparison.

For my games, I made it a -1 cumulative penalty, so if a character has 3 Wounds, the character has a -3 on all checks, including Toughness. That gave me a level of grit that made me happy.

But I digress.

I gave my players a bunch of choices for playing Mundus Novit. The decision was to go super-hero. I did stipulate it would be without bright costumes and such, but gave the group a choice between the Authority and Planetary as campaign paradigms. While the campaign adventures are Planetary flavoured, the crew is more the Authority.

Here’s what I mean. By now, everyone should be aware of my love for Warren Ellis. While Nextwave indoctrinated me, it was Planetary that made me the raving fanboy that I am. His work on the Authority just reinforced that.

For me, Planetary was about powerful individuals while the Authority (at least during Ellis’ run) was about intense situations. That is not to say that Planetary did not have intense situation nor that the Authority did not have powerful individuals, but these were secondary.

To me, Planetary is about the characters and the story while the Authority is about the powers and hitting stuff. Because the Authority focuses so much on the powers, it seems like the Planetary characters are less powerful by comparison. In raw power, this is absolutely untrue. However, the powers are not the focus of Planetary, so one tends to focus on the characters and the plot.

Mutants & Masterminds is perfect for the Authority. I don’t know if the shift in our campaign flavour is due to the system or just the characters created using it. It may be a reflection of the power level at which I set the campaign.

I set the power level at 10 for a few reasons. One was that I test-built a few characters. To get the kind of character I wanted, level 10 seemed to be the sweet spot. The characters weren’t uber-powerful, but they could do a lot. Thing is, I could not test or even understand all of the powers. I still don’t.

There are some powers that don’t cost much that can really affect specific parts of the campaign. Ranges and speeds can get pretty silly at rank 10. One of the characters has Datalink with a range “to the moon!”

Now, when I built my test characters, I didn’t understand about things like Alternate Powers. That’s kind of a big thing. All the characters in the game have alternate powers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does change how one plans the game, and how the game moves.

This is yet another example of how one really needs to run a game to understand how it works. I still say that there is value in a review of a game that the reviewer has not played, as long as that fact is clear in the review.

Stick around. I’ve got more to say about the Osiris campaign.

Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – Face to Face

Continued from Nineteen: Getting In Your Head

Twenty: Face to Face

The alley provided long shadows and plenty of cover. Mads crouched beside some old, apparently empty crates, his eyes on the door. Was the target in there? Somewhere, deep inside where he didn’t have to examine it too closely, Mads hoped the place was empty. It wasn’t that he was particularly afraid for himself. He wouldn’t be expected to do any of the hard charging, not with Walker, Digs, and Becca all there. No, Mads just didn’t like all the turns this mission had taken.

In there? Maybe the biggest turn of all.

Even though he knew where Walker hid, with Gurung—minding an unconscious prisoner—close beside him, Mads couldn’t really make them out. He couldn’t see anyone except Becca. She had decided she wanted to get a look in the second floor window. Gurung’s information was that the second storey was vacant. It would make an easy entry if so.

She hung there, suspended—Mads had seen her gear, all straps and pinions—while she examined the window frame. The door swung open. Mads grip tightened around his Sauer .40 P229 autoloader pistol. His mouth went dry. He didn’t recognize this guy. Tall, the guy had fair hair, military short and a little thin. He had broad shoulders, a strong jaw, and looked pretty thick under his jacket.

The guy looked down the alley as he withdrew a pack of cigarettes from under his jacket. Cigarette in mouth, his hand disappeared into his pocket. Over him, Becca had shifted. The climbing device held her aloft as though she were some kind of spider. She had a suppressed Heckler & Koch USP Tactical autoloader at the ready.

She always has the coolest kit. Mads shifted as he watched her.

Did the guy hear? His brow furrowed. His eyes scanned the alley.

Becca put the gun to his head. “Stay quiet. I cannot hesitate in killing you.”

Inwardly, Mads cringed. That was some horrible, horrible Russian.

And that made him pause. Why Russian?

“Your grammar is terrible.” The guy spoke Russian. Perfect Russian. Good guess on Becca’s part?

“You move, I shoot.” Becca should’ve switched to English. Maybe she knew something about this guy, had recognized him.

From the top of his head? How did that make sense?

The guy’s hand, the one with the lighter, started to move for his hip. A gun. Must be.

Had Becca noted it also? “You get gun, you dead.”

That’s when Walker spoke, using English. “You say the wrong thing, she will kill you. Is Boyle inside?”

Gurung had led them there. He claimed he had set this place up for Boyle and crew, and had recently delivered some equipment. It sounded like the Stream were setting up their own little interrogation chamber in there.

Slight movement caught Mads’ eye. He noted the red dot on Becca’s neck. “Becca’s lit up.”

Had it been Mads, he would have jerked around up there, frantically trying to get the laser sight’s aiming point off him. Becca, however, simply removed the gun from the Guy’s head.

The Guy put his lighter away. His hand came out empty. “Do I have a guardian angel? I always hoped so.” He spoke in English with only the slightest of accents.

Becca detached herself from the wall, landing almost silently beside the Guy. He surged back, but his face remained impassive.

“I’m betting that you would be Rudi.” She holstered her USP.

The Guy watched her, taking a long drag from his cigarette. He snapped the fingers of his free hand. “Rebecca, yes? The one he calls Becca.”

Becca smiled. “Then Boyle is in there.”

Walker emerged from the dark, Gurung at his side. Walker’s MP5K sub machine-gun hung on its tactical harness. Gurung carried the prisoner taken in the alley shootout in which Dyck had been wounded.

“There’s no need for this hostility,” Gurung said. “Rudi is on our side.”

“I thought you were in Burma.” That came from Heather, who approached Rudi with a hand out.

The Guy, apparently named Rudi, took her hand in both of his. “Heather, Heather, I should have known the beautiful Canadian would be you. Now all this trouble is of worth.”

The door opened. Hands went to weapons, but no one drew. Mads had burned the face of the man at the door into his memory. Here he was, the object of their mission. Boyle had a half-smile on his face as he offered his hand to Becca.

“I guess you were worried.” He spoke with the slightest hint of a lilt.

Son of a bitch. Mads thought he heard genuine warmth in that voice.

“The CIA wanting you dead?” Becca shook his hand. She all but beamed. “Yeah, I got worried. Then I got Scott.”

Boyle turned to Walker. “Scott is back at your safehouse?”

Walker nodded. “He brought a doctor for a wounded teammate. He stayed on with another of my team.”

“Yes, I was wondering where Sergeant Everson might be.” Boyle’s eyes moved around the alley. “But is all the party here?”

Mads stood up. “No one here but us chickens.”

Two feet hit the pavement an arm’s length to his right, and Mads jumped. The woman standing beside him unhitched herself from a line. She had a Knight’s Armament SR-25 sniper rifle in hand. Slim beneath all her gear, her hair tied back, she had sharp features that made her almost look like a classical statue in the shadows.

“Chickens is right.” And she spoke with a decidedly English accent. If he had to guess, Mads would have said Lake District.

“Shadowy meetings with excessive firearms and posturing make me nervous.” Mads holstered his weapon. “I’m funny that way.”

She winked. “Yeah. That’s about the only way, too.”

Mads immediately liked her. She turned to Boyle. “You want me back in overwatch? Front or back?”

“Sensors and cameras in position?” When she nodded, Boyle gestured through the door. “Then let’s all sit down for some tea and a face to face.” He turned to Walker. “I am guessing you need this prisoner interrogated and Gurung told you we had the goods. Is that right?”

Boyle and Becca went in first, followed by Rudi and Heather, chatting away as though they had met at the local market. Gurung entered without further comment. Walker watched Mads. He had a lop-sided grin playing on the fringes of his mouth.

The woman patted Mads’ arm as she passed. “Let’s get going then, chuckles.”

Walker shrugged and followed her in. Mads did the same, before the door closed. He didn’t know what he expected inside, but something more than what he saw. The place looked abandoned, save for some very temporary looking tables on which sat plenty of electronics equipment. He saw cots and packs, a gas stove and a small electric fridge. The diesel generator beside it told him this crew came prepared. That shouldn’t have surprised him. Weren’t these the ninjas?

Boyle sat in a small folding chair, encompassing the rest of the sparse furnishings with a wave of his arm. “Get comfortable, all. Rudi, can you show Gurung where to deposit the package?”

Mads didn’t like the way Boyle referred to the live prisoner as a package. Then again, why would he expect these guys to be anything other than stone cold?

“I’m guessing Gurung brought our guy to you.” Becca already had the fridge door open and had pulled out a bottle of water. “Did you get anything from him?”

“His name is Huang,” Boyle said. “Family name is all, though if it’s his own or not is up in the air. He’s had his memory wiped by someone good. He’s got false implants, but weak ones. They left him particularly vulnerable to parapsychic exploration.”

Becca leaned against one of the tables. She frowned. “That’s all we know? No handler?”

“We got a name, got some contact information, and we’re trying to run it down.” Boyle nodded at the various electronic equipment on the tables. “We got their broadcast technology reverse engineered and re-built into something that helps us monitor them. We’re seventy-five percent certain that we have the handler, a guy named Chris Yu, but who’s going by Yu Le around here.”

“Progress.” Walker sat on one of the cots, right on the edge. “I like it.”

“Does that mean you’re not planning on arresting me?” Boyle asked.

“Frankly, ever since our fake briefer linked you to Alexander Scott, I’ve had my questions.” Walker shrugged. “If it were my decision, I’d say it’s time to join forces. It sounds to me like we’ve got a common enemy.”

“If it’s not your decision, whose is it?” Boyle’s eyes moved to Heather.

“Yeah, it’s kind of mine,” Heather said.

Boyle’s smile made Mads think he was either amused or really didn’t care too much. “And you have reservations?”

“Let me tell you what I see.” Heather still stood, and Mads noted she leaned ever so slightly toward Boyle. “We mark a Tangible Stream signature in Kathmandu–“

Boyle raised his hand. “We being the Canadian military?”

“We being none of your concern, right now.” Heather glanced at Walker. “Let’s just say we work with Walker’s gang. So, the Stream is in Kathmandu and then the place goes dark. Totally dark.”

“I can tell you for certain that Cascade wasn’t the only ESPer in theatre,” Boyle said. “We were here because we had a lead on a non-state actor with a parapsychic asset intent on inserting this asset into China.”

Becca stood straight. “That would be Blackout?”

Boyle raised an eyebrow. “Blackout was the name we had for the asset. Theirs, not ours. How’d you hear about it?”

Rudi had returned with Gurung but without the prisoner. Rudi crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “I told you I passed on what information I had to Scott. That was part of it.”

“We thought we had quite a coup with that intel,” Boyle said. “I didn’t realize it was in the open. From the Russians?” Boyle waited for Rudi to nod before continuing. “Figures. So, we had a rogue ESPer, possibly weaponized, named Blackout headed for China. Then we get jumped, here, by the Chinese who think we are CIA. The thing is, I don’t think they were Chinese, and this Chris Yu may be the lead we need to track down that end of it. Someone here is playing a game.”

“And they want you out of it,” Becca said. “What about the girl in prison, the one we thought was your sniper?”

Boyle rubbed his forehead. “Yeah, that was a kind of a dirty trick. We planted the weapon on her. She matched Willow pretty well, enough that anyone who had intel on the team might make the mistake. That left us with a hidden ace.”

“And now?” Walker asked. “What are your plans now?”

“Now?” Boyle looked around the room. “I guess that all depends.”

“Heather held up her hands in surrender. “Consider us in, at least for now. Your story fits our information, and given the situation, I’d say cooperation makes sense.” She looked to Mads, a little late if looking for input.

“I’m all for joining forces.” Mads would have made the same call. It still bugged him that Heather had kept information from him, but he was a professional. They had a job to do.

“Then we’ve got two targets for now.” Boyle held up one finger. “Chris Yu, once we have a positive fix, is begging for a visit. Second,” he held up a piece of paper in his other hand, “we have information on a shipment that moved through Vladivostock and ended up here. That could provide another lead.”

Gurung stepped forward and took the paper. “I can look into it. Give me a few hours. Is this our rally point?”

“This is.” Boyle pointed to Rudi. “Take Rudi with you. He has the proper skillset for this kind of job.”

The smile that came to Rudi’s face had a touch of the predator to it. “I do at that.”

“For the rest of us, we have leads on Chris Yu that need to be run down, both physically and electronically.” Boyle inhaled as if to speak more, but paused when a woman appeared at the top of the stairs.

The woman had an athletic build and an attractive face, with fine, fair hair pulled back in a bun. She looked exhausted. “We’ve got problems. I think I know the opposition, and you’re not going to like it.”

Continued in Twenty One: Fruits of the Mind Field

Trust Me on This One

There are a lot of different factors to playing a role-playing game. One of those, at least in most of the ones that I play, is resource management. Whether it is making considerations based on remaining hit points, or deciding when to use that last remaining conviction point, there are resources that impact on our decisions regarding our character.

The very essence of sword noir includes a kind of a different of resource. Let’s look at that definition again.

To quote:

So what is sword noir as a genre? Characters morals are shifting at best and absent at worst. The atmosphere is dark and hope is frail or completely absent. Violence is deadly and fast. The characters are good at what they do, but they are specialists. Trust is the most valued of commodities–life is the cheapest. Grim leaders weave labyrinthine plots which entangle innocents. Magic exists and can be powerful, but it takes extreme dedication to learn, extorts a horrible price, and is slow to conjure.

Trust is the most valued of commodities–life is the cheapest.

How does one emphasize this in a game? I mean, you can tell your players, but just like I was saying with the dark atmosphere, it takes more than words. Not only does one need player buy in, this—like all other aspects of the definition—needs to inform not only the setting but also the characters.

If one were the kind of person who loved to tinker with rules, one might include some ability, point system, or other mechanic that would reward things like keeping one’s word, honouring contracts, acting in a humane and decent manner. These things would not be all that common in a sword noir setting.

True20 has virtues and vices that can provide a mechanical benefit (a conviction point) when following one of these puts the character at a disadvantage. It is a mechanical method for maintaining character, but something similar could be used or expanded with a specific group of virtues, things that hit on trust and honour, and these would be common to all characters—even though they would not be a part of that character, rather a part of the setting.

Other than providing a benefit through some kind of bennie system (or conviction, or hero point, what have you), there is also the consideration of reputation. While many systems include a reputation mechanic, there might be a separate, or complementary mechanic that could be implemented. Being a person one could trust might not make one more known, but once identified, the character’s reputation as a straight shooter could influence everything further.

Even without a mechanical benefit, it is important that the GM remember instances when the characters act with honour even though it is not necessary. Coerced honour is not really honour, and completing a contract out of fear isn’t cause for notice. However, those for whom the character does a favour, or a kindness, or just does the right thing will be those to whom the character may turn for support, or who might appear like the cavalry at just the right moment.

Sure, adhering to a code of honour or even a contract may mark the characters as naive or soft for some elements of society, and this could lead them into dangers or trouble. However, overcoming these problems will only enhance the characters’ reputations.

And as for life being cheap: let’s face it, in most RPGs, it is. However, you might want to remove things like the Conan RPG’s “left for dead” mechanic, or the True20 use of a conviction to avoid death. In 3E/3.5, make the massive damage threshold equal to the character’s Constitution—basically, how it works in d20 Modern.

Make the characters fear death. And don’t forget to show them the death around them. Flunkies who fail or who say too much disappear, only to reappear as a corpse. Someone who helps out the characters get a step closer to the Big Bad? Yeah, that guy (or girl) pays the ultimate price. The characters need to be tough, because a common reaction to enmity is death—why leave someone alive who can come back for revenge?

Grim leaders weave labyrinthine plots which entangle innocents.

That’s what comes next. This is part of the setting, but also part of building campaigns for sword noir.

Mundus Novit: Visiting the Vault

You might be able to tell, from Rudi’s background, that there is a lot more going on in Mundus Novit than just Tangible Stream or the Vault. Some of the groups included in the actual sourcebook have been name-dropped in Dark Horizons, but the key players in Dark Horizons were not included in the sourcebook.

As we get closer to the conclusion (and just so you know, it’s plotted out to 28 chapters), I’ll be giving you more mechanical or setting flavour. I figure now is a good time to start, pretty much two-thirds of the way through.

I thought I would first deliver onto you Madison Sinclair and Heather Jeffries’ team–known as the Vault–in the same format you will find in the Mundus Novit sourcebook. The entry begins with a kind of quote from someone on the inside. In this case, it is someone deflecting questions about the Vault. After this, we get into the meat of the entry, with the big questions, the real story (as opposed to the cover story, in a situation in which the group had a public face) and the place in which PCs would fit in this group. There are a collection of groups, such as the CIA’s ESPer unit Narcissus, and Lt. Rebecca Park’s unit, the Advanced Tactics Action Company.

So, here you are, the Vault:

The Vault
This area is restricted to authorized personnel, so I’m afraid we’re not going in there. No, it’s not anything particularly secret or memorable, it’s just a communications monitoring facility, one of the many here at CSE. Why is it called the Vault? Where did you hear that? Really? Never mind. It’s called the Vault as a kind of a joke. See this title card? Special Monitoring Actions Module. SPAM. And where do you find spam? In a can, of course. So it went from can to vault. Nothing particularly nefarious. Let’s continue on, shall we?

Who? Communications Security Establishment, Special Monitoring Actions Module

What? The Vault is involved in the tracking and analyzing of parapsychic activity globally. It provides parapsychic encounter training (PET) which prepares individuals to withstand parapsychic assualt, and parapsychic active training (PAT) which teaches parapsychs to better use their powers.

Where? The Vault is housed in the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) complex in Ottawa, Canada.

Why? With the identification of parapsychic phenomena following the Trigger Event, the CSE required the capability to scrutinize parapsychic traffic. With the mandate to monitor foreign signals intelligence, and protect Canadian electronics and communications, the CSE felt it had the purview, given that current theories of parapsychic phenomena posit an organically created signal.

How? As with most intelligence agencies around the world, the emergence of post-humans surprised the CSE. Due to its close relationship with the National Security Agency of the United States and the Government Communications Headquarters of the United Kingdom, the CSE gained access to parapsychic monitoring equipment. Cultivating a core of parapsychic assets, the CSE cobbled together a global monitoring system interlinking existing electronics technology with the new parapsychic equipment and parapsychs on staff.

The success of this initial unit led to the creation of the Special Monitoring Actions Module in February of 2005. The CSE completed construction of the Vault, designed to defeat electronic and parapsychic eavesdropping, in August of that year.

Led by the Chief of Operations, Special Cases, the staff of the Vault are mostly intelligence officers and analysts. The requirement for operatives prepared to encounter parapsychic opposition led to the creation of a Special Encounters Team, which reports directly to the CO/SC. The team is staffed with Vault personnel who have military or intelligence filed agent training or experience. The SET is also responsible for delivering both the PET and PAT programs.

The Real Story: The general public is not aware of the Vault’s existence. While staff of the CSE at the Ottawa complex may have seen or heard something about the Special Monitoring Actions Module, very few know any details. Within the government, only the Prime Minister’s Office, the Armed Forces Council, the Minster of National Defence and the Chief of the Communications Security Establishment know the truth about the Vault. The Vault’s budget is totally black, hidden amid other projects and allocations for the CSE.

The Role of PCs: The Special Encounters Team (SET) is the perfect placed within the Vault for player characters. The SET often works alongside the 7th Tactical Security Detachment–also known as the Detachment or Det 7–a black operations unit reporting to the Chief of Defence Intelligence. The SET might work on military missions, but are also involved in deniable and clandestine operations. The team may support civilian government elements but is also deeply involved in military deployments.

Basically, the SET allows player characters to get involved in any kind of adventure desired. The unit has no mandate other than to deal with strange situations and do what the Vault’s Chief of Operations tells it to do.

Hitting Dark Atmo

I wrote about Sword Noir characters in the last post, and I mentioned this was not the hardest part about Sword Noir. What is the hardest part?

The atmosphere.

Listen, giving an actual description of what constitutes film noir is pretty tough. That’s true of a lot of genres. A lot of people know what isn’t pulp, but it’s tough to catalogue exactly what is pulp.

I have attempted to define Sword Noir, but really it really is simply a mash-up of sword & sorcery and film noir. It’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser chasing down the Maltese Falcon. It’s Conan getting hired to find red-haired Velma.

And it’s as much atmosphere as anything else.

The aesthetics of noir is very much about attitude. But while that attitude is reflected in the characters, much of it is external. Let’s look at my definition of Sword Noir again.

To quote:

So what is sword noir as a genre? Characters morals are shifting at best and absent at worst. The atmosphere is dark and hope is frail or completely absent. Violence is deadly and fast. The characters are good at what they do, but they are specialists. Trust is the most valued of commodities–life is the cheapest. Grim leaders weave labyrinthine plots which entangle innocents. Magic exists and can be powerful, but it takes extreme dedication to learn, extorts a horrible price, and is slow to conjure.

See how much of that is setting? To me, setting is more than just a collection of places. Setting is atmosphere. The city of Lankhmar is what it is because of its atmosphere, not its locales and location. What makes Shadizar the city of the wicked? Casablanca isn’t about the actual place–it could be called Singapore or Cairo and the story would still work.

Setting is atmosphere.

The atmosphere is dark and hope is frail or completely absent.

That’s the second sentence in the definition. The dark atmosphere isn’t illumination, it’s a lack of hope, a setting of pessimism in which cynicism is simply being realistic. I would say it is our world, but that isn’t exactly true. Our world has hope in many places. In the case of Sword Noir, dark is a few steps away from dystopia. It’s a look at the poor and abandoned places of our own cities. You know that section of town where you wouldn’t want to be caught alone after dark? It’s that place.

And this isn’t about anything physical. This is about a feeling. This is about fear and expectation. You can’t really show this on a map. You can’t use miniatures or models to designate it. This is something that the GM and players must concoct and maintain in unison.

Notice, this is something the GM and players must concoct in unison. If the players don’t buy into this, it is not going to happen. It is tough to create atmosphere in someone’s basement, or dinner table, or spare room, or wherever. The GM can try to build the atmosphere through words and description. It can be reinforced through the actions and reactions of NPCs. What it cannot do is withstand the disinterest or disregard of the players. They must feel it, and they must portray their characters as feeling it.

That’s tough.

And this is only a part of it. Next, let’s look at:

Trust is the most valued of commodities–life is the cheapest.

I’ll be back to talk about that later.

Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – Getting In Your Head

Continued from Eighteen: Who’s Taking the High Road?

Nineteen: Getting In Your Head

The Little Guy—the talker, the ESPer—took a step toward Boyle. He sneered. Rudi wanted to track the Little Guy with his pistol. He wanted to put that arrogant bastard down. He wanted to erase the Little Guy then do the same for the Lifter—that bulk of flesh and muscle who also had a firearm in hand.

Rudi did not shoot. He could not. No one in the little restaurant moved. His back to the store opening, he wondered if everyone in the store were equally paralyzed. If not, perhaps someone in there would notice the frozen tableau in the restaurant, all those guns out, only the Lifter and the Little Guy moving.

“Poor little Rajendra.” The Little Guy considered the corpse, its blood an ever expanding pool beneath it. “The funny part is that he really didn’t know anything. Nothing important at least. So much for him. Now for you two.”

“You need to hurry up.” The Lifter spoke slurred English with a strange accent. Rudi would have put him as an Indian, but now he wasn’t so sure.

“We have time.” The Little Guy stopped just in front of Boyle, who was on one knee, weapon out, aiming at where the Little Guy had stood before the paralysis. “And I figure I might as well enjoy this little victory. Stop and smell the roses, you know?”

In his mind, Rudi had a strong sense of the Little Guy. The Little Guy’s presence had expanded to fill everything, like a balloon inside a box. Thoughts percolated up and then bounced off the balloon. It made everything so chaotic for Rudi, so disconnected.

Then the balloon deflated. Wiggle room. Rudi tested its limits. Slowly, he turned to get the Little Guy in his sights.

I’ve got the parapsych. Cascade spoke in his head. You need to remove the bodyguard. Do it now.

And the balloon disappeared. No trace of it remained. Rudi shifted target to the Lifter. That one didn’t even notice. Three rounds impacted, two in the chest and one in the head, before the body even started to fall. The Little Guy gurgled out something that might have been a plea or a curse.

Supercilious little prick. Even as a disembodied voice, venom laced Cascade’s words.

Everyone in the restaurant moved–a surge of people and the associated noise. Someone started to scream.

“Sit in your chairs with your hands on the table.” The volume and the steel in Boyle’s voice forced obedience as much as the Little Guy’s parapsychic commands had. “Look at your hands. We’ll be gone soon. Feel free to tell the police everything you saw and heard. It should be interesting explaining how you couldn’t move or act in any way.”

Did everyone in the restaurant speak English? It didn’t matter. Everyone complied. Why ask why?

Cascade stepped into the restaurant from the store. She had her silenced Beretta in hand. She pointed to the Little Guy. “We take him with us.”

Boyle had already holstered his weapon and had flex-cuffs in hand. “Way ahead of you.”

Rudi swept the restaurant and the store opening with his Yarygin Grach autoloader pistol. The three had driven a non-descript sedan from their safehouse. That sedan had been parked in the alley behind. Would it still be there? Boyle had chosen visually unpleasant for a reason.

The Little Guy cuffed, Boyle took glanced at Rudi. “Carry him.”

In that he had agreed to assist Boyle and Cascade in their work, he had accepted Boyle as his commanding officer, his leader, his boss. One did not contest the role of alpha male in the middle of an operation. Rudi holstered his weapon, and moved to lift the surprisingly light ESPer.

With the Little Guy upright, Boyle got in close. He held in his hand what Rudi took for an autoinjector–like what medics used for morphine. He jammed it into the Little Guy’s neck.

“You thought you’d have fun mindfucking us?” Boyle leaned close, speaking into the Little Guy’s ear. “Guess who’s on the menu now.”

The Little Guy, already a passive load, became a total dead weight in Rudi’s arms. Rudi hooked him over his back, grabbing one arm and one leg in a fireman’s carry. “Let’s go.”

Boyle nodded. He had his SIG in hand again. He moved quickly and all but silently through the door behind the counter. Rudi followed, assuming Cascade would do the same. Through a kitchen and past two staring faces, jaws slack, then Rudi stood in the alley. The sedan remained, and Boyle waved him to it. Boyle scanned the area, waiting for the ambush. Cascade came through the door.

Five more, almost at the entrance. Cascade spoke in his head. They have a powerful parapsych with them, but they aren’t expecting an active screen.

Rudi reached the sedan. He didn’t have the keys. He heard the vehicle unlock, so he tried the trunk. It popped open. Before he dumped in the Little Guy, he pulled out the duffle bag with some of the weapons Boyle had collected. The Little guy ensconced in the trunk, Rudi took an MP5SD—a silenced sub-machine gun—and chambered a round. The selector remained on safe, and the duffle went into the back seat.

Cascade arrived next and got into the driver’s seat. “Shouldn’t you be doing this?” The car started.

“I’m keeping the boss covered.” Rudi didn’t joke.

Boyle reached the car. He no longer held his SIG, but rather had his HK53 short assault rifle in hand. “Someone was expecting this.” He got into the passenger side, and Rudi got in the back. “Expecting the meet, expecting the ambush, and expecting us to counter and escape.”

“Maybe, but they didn’t expect it so fast.” Cascade threw the vehicle into gear and lurched down the alley, away from the restaurant.

“Can you monitor them while driving?” Rudi asked Cascade.

“Not well.”

“Concentrate on driving.” Boyle watched the side mirror.

Rudi had the sub-machine gun ready. He saw the back door of the restaurant open just as the sedan turned out of the alley. Too late for the opposition. Too late for the Little Guy.

Abandon all hope . . .

Cascade took a circuitous route back to the safehouse. Rudi had no idea if the team had other roosts, but he had only been allowed to see one. He watched for tails and, as they approached the safehouse, for surveillance. He saw nothing.

The safehouse had a convenient rear entrance on a conveniently unremarkable alley on a similarly unimpressive side street. That side street had little traffic, and no one witnessed them removing the unconscious Little Guy from the trunk. Rudi again had the pleasure of carrying the prisoner, which wasn’t too bad, considering the Guy didn’t weight much.

Cascade paused at the mouth of the alley. She shook her head. “Unless they’ve got some optimum shielding, we’re clean.”

Boyle still had the HK53 in hand. He went to the safehouse door and paused. Perhaps he listened, but Rudi would have been surprised if Boyle thougth he would note signs that Cascade had missed. He entered, followed by Rudi while Cascade came last, securing the door.

The safehouse had few furnishings. An old storefront, whose covered front window declared it undergoing renovations, the first floor had their cots, kitchen and computers. The building also had an upper floor and a basement. The upper floor saw little use, except for occasionally as a perch from which to watch the street outside. The basement had already been prepped to receive prisoners.

Rudi navigated his way down the narrow stairs, the unconscious package on his back not helping at all. Boyle switched on the main light. Rudi dumped the Little Guy on the table to which Boyle pointed. Boyle then secured him while Cascade wheeled out an IV drip.

Stepping back as Cascade searched for a vein, Rudi rubbed his chin. “Sodium thiopental? Amytal? Love potion number nine?”

Boyle stood beside him, watching Cascade work. “Actually, propofol.”

“I haven’t heard of that used in interrogations,” Rudi said.

“We’re not talking a truth serum here.” Boyle moved to grab a chair and slide it over to Cascade.

“Not truth serum?” Rudi did a quick survey of the dimly lit basement. “I don’t see any tools or implements. The Burmese like show off their collection before they begin their session.”

“We’re not the Burmese, Rudi,” Boyle said. “No torture. The subject’s been anesthetised. Cascade’s going in to get us what we want.”

Rudi’s hand froze on his jaw. “Going in?”

“Cascade is going to ESPer our answers.” Boyle spoke with easy nonchalance, as though mentioning Cascade was going shopping at the market.

“You say no torture, but ESPer intrusion has its own particular scars.” Rudi’s hand fell from his jaw. He shoved both in his pockets. “It’s never pretty. I’ve seen good men ruined.”

“We’re professionals here.” Boyle gestured at Cascade. “She’s good. She’s smooth. She’ll go in, get what we need, and be out. The subject won’t remember it. There’ll be no damage. She’s been trained by the best.”

Rudi raised an eyebrow. “The best?”

Boyle scowled. “Did you forget who we are? We’re Tangible Stream. The best.”

“And humble.” Rudi touched his jacket. He found his cigarettes. “I’m going to get some air while you get your answers.”

“This isn’t going to be messy, trust me.” Boyle’s scowl evaporated. “We’ve done this before. Successfully.”

Rudi just nodded as he climbed the stairs. Of course they had. They were, after all, Tangible Stream–the ghosts that frightened even the blackest of operations. Rudi had worked in SD8, had worked alongside the Hunters, had contact with just about every unit that used or researched techniques from the “beyond-the-limit sphere.” The Stream haunted all of those, just as it haunted the Western units, like Narcissus, like Oberon.

He stepped out into the alley. The shadows had lengthened, bathing most of the alley in darkness. Nothing moved. Rudi could hear the city around him, breathing the noise and commotion common to cities. Here, in the alley, a cocoon of quiet and gloom separated him from the rest.

He noted, as he took out a cigarette, the beat-up, brown and white cargo van at the end of the alley, near where Cascade had parked the sedan. He took out his lighter.

Cold metal pressed against the top of his head.

“Stay quiet,” said a woman in thickly accented Russian. “I cannot hesitate in killing you.”

“Your grammar is terrible.” Rudi still held the lighter in one hand and the cigarette in the other. He started to lower the lighter, getting closer to his holstered weapon.

From the size and shape of the object, Rudi guessed the weapon at his head was suppressed.

“You move, I shoot.” She sounded closer now. The voice came from above.

Cascade would be busy probing the Little Guy. Hearing the door, Boyle would assume he was coming back in. If Rudi didn’t act, this team would have surprise. The best or not, outnumbered and surprised would spell the end for Boyle and Cascade.

“You get gun, you dead,” said the woman.

His heart beat loudly. His hand hovered near his hip, near his weapon. How fast? Could he outrace a bullet?

From out of the shadows, a male voice spoke in English. “You say the wrong thing, she will kill you. Is Boyle inside?”

Continued in Twenty: Face to Face