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Breakdown: Life in the Shadows

Posted by Jason Walters on

Author’s Comments on Breakdown:  “The World of Life in the Shadows”

It’s one of my greatest joys watching players bring a game to life.  I thank all the playtesters so much for their contributions.

At their near best, playtest games are not only a validation but a wonderful show where I’m entertained by dynamic and insightful writer-actors for whom I am a mere executive producer, providing facilities and a helpful nudge now and then.  When the players don’t have to ask what they can do, I know that game materials are comprehensive and that the game is coherent.  When players are coaching other players and reminding me of some option I forget to mention, I gain real confidence in the game.

A primary use of playtesting is to ensure the game supports the desired experience, in this case one of high adrenaline action and dramatic emotion.  I knew the game was working when I watched a rogue soldier, grieving over lost comrades, take the time to comfort a kidnapping victim, the two of them tumbling into a good cry just after explosions and escapes in “Life in the Shadows.”

But at its very best, playtesting schools me on optimal play.  People learn to exploit mechanics, and I learn from that.  This is one of the most valuable lessons of playtesting.  I believe a game book must relay not only the mechanics, but the ways in which people effectively employ those; playtesting is the sole means to learn that. 

And sometimes the players teach me the real power of the mechanics.  I recall the epiphany experienced in a player’s demonstration of Seizing Narration, as recorded in the book in the example of how Dr. Rar forced Dr. Winslow to cover up her pregnancy.  The player realized that she wanted to use an Opening to Seize Narration, and simply declared its use without first framing a Conflict.  I realized then that this is a powerful way to play, not to wait for a Conflict to get framed to Seize Narration but to first Seize and then frame the Conflict as a result.  It’s a perfect melding of plotting (call it metagaming if you will) and execution (the actual in-play writing and acting). 

And then there’s the joy of how players develop the settings.  “Life During Wartime” elements were especially developed through playtesting.  Carthage, the sentient artificial intelligence, gained its name and developed a character when a humanist Libertarian Pro named Cato needed a challenging foil.  The Greys and Saturday Barter Market developed as we explored what it meant to be off the grid.  So much more coolness will happen in your game – I’m already envious!

At even its worst, playtesting is a learning experience.  If players stumble, it’s usually the system’s lack of coherence, explanation, or scope.  If players don’t have a good time, the game isn’t properly inclusive or isn’t properly warning off those who wouldn’t want to play such a game.  If I run a bad game, I learn what I did wrong. 

It was during the latest stages of playtesting in this setting that a player demonstrated and spoke to the limitation in everyone increasing the same Emotion Pool when its Tone dominates.  At this point, I had determined to stay at a level of simplification the game had reached.  But, to paraphrase Einstein, a system should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.  I over-reached, and in applying simplicity for the sake of ease of play had trampled on player agency and the player’s sense of verisimilitude.  I can’t thank that player enough – literally, because as usual my reflection and acceptance of the input took longer than the time we had together. 

And that’s the only shame of playtesting.  During the game, we’re in the moment.  After the game, we’re spent and go our separate ways to refresh and recover.  I can only hope that this game honors the input of those who played.  I’ve already had my reward in watching a mere framework come to life as a meaningful way to roleplay and tell stories together.

(This blog’s aside:  as aforementioned, this setting owes a special debt in inspiration to Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.”  I hope somebody plays a character inspired by the subject of that song.  I’d also love to hear if you use the Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World settings.)


General Setting Description

It's the very near future – a dark and scary version.

The two big political parties are allied in an uneasy "Safety Coalition" to fight the many enemies of the state – gangs, syndicates, terrorists, foreigners, splitters, extremists, etc.; still, there is ongoing political rancor, theater, and infighting.

Tech is just slightly futuristic, but the gap between have-nots and haves is extreme. Most of the population gets by with modifications to yesterday's tech while the elite have the latest and greatest. What the highest caliber and most secret organizations can do is even more advanced. But there is no technology beyond contemporary accepted scientific explanation (no alternate dimensions, no teleportation, or otherwise fantastical technology).

Almost everyone lives under hyper-surveillance by state and private organizations, rogue and "legitimate" alike.

Conspiracies abound, and the suspicion of conspiracies is pervasive. It is an open debate whether the government is solely the instrument of the elite – and which elite. Few people trust the news media.

An “Off-Grid” (OG) counter-culture movement has emerged, urging people to break the law by going off the grid. There are a few known OG communities and many more rumored to exist.

Most concerning to much of the public is the increasing occurrence of mysterious disappearances. Some blame "the terrorists," some blame the government, some blame the OG. “Disappeared” has become a noun referring to any such person, as in “Don’t say anything, her son is Disappeared.”

You’ll notice we didn’t say this is the United States. It can be anywhere. Adjust to taste. Set the game where you live or in some exotic location nobody in the play group has ever visited, as you like.

The Protagonists are deeply embedded in society's mess. They are spies, informants, the loved ones of Disappeared, hackers, freedom fighters (which some might view as terrorists), journalists, government administrators, politicians, OG, bloggers, eco-protectors (known to some as eco-terrorists), industrial espionage artists, and the like.

Examples / Inspirations

An easy way for players to fill in details is via reference to popular shows, books, songs, and other art/entertainment. While those particularly useful to the emotional context of Breakdown are listed in What Inspires and Distinguishes Breakdown, some examples more specific to the world setting of Life in the Shadows include:

  • The TV show Max Headroom: 15 Minutes into the Future

  • The roleplaying game Paranoia

  • The book Neuromancer

  • The book or movie A Clockwork Orange

  • The book 1984

  • The TV show The X-Files

  • The video for the song “Revolution Action” by Atari Teenage Riot

  • The TV show Dollhouse

There are so many others, the above is only a launching pad to help you get started in the right direction.

Another source of inspiration is the news. Science and technology articles are especially useful as anything currently in laboratories or theorized as near-term practical is rife to reimagine as widespread, as a source of power for a few, and/or as actively suppressed.

Ideas for Pros

Pros can be of all walks of life and backgrounds, so long as their story thrusts them into the dystopian action. Some examples:

  • Ex-military, especially highly trained sorts (Special Forces, SEALs) – often they find themselves strangely and unexpectedly ejected

  • The unassuming, lucky, and well-placed young woman whose father is the head of a major news publisher (and wrapped deeply in suppressing information for the government)

  • A politician, such as an inoffensive and climbing mayor

  • An OG, someone living off the grid

There are many examples already provided in the CREATING CHARACTERS chapter of the book.

Some Details of Daily Life

You might want to use all or some of the below as quick illustrations of daily life for the Pros in Life in the Shadows – feel free to add your own and change any/all as desired. Do not overwhelm players with details. Leave room for players to add details over time. A list of ten or thereabouts, like below, is ideal.

  1. In order to have a truly private conversation, unless one has access to “True Quantum Encryption” (rare, detectable, and illegal), people go to careful and sometimes extreme lengths. For example, secret meetings are often held in extremely noisy places such as dance clubs. Some long-time friends develop a rich code out of slang, metaphors, and idiosyncratic expressions.

  2. A common phrase is "enough said.” Decent people respect this as a conversation ender to protect privacy (one's own or someone else's).

  3. It is illegal to remove power from any "screen" (as in a screen for a home media system, a computer, or even a smartphone). Emergency broadcasting systems can awaken screens remotely to warn the population. Many people hang shades over their screens and muffle microphones out of fears of being monitored.

  4. It's normal for any authority figure to ask to see your state identity card. You legally don't have to show anyone other than the police or armed forces, but most authorities can freely call them in, so people normally give in to such requests.

  5. "Don't tell and you're half guilty." Any citizen who doesn't divulge everything they know about a crime that may occur or has occurred may receive half the punishment the criminal receives for the planning or commitment of that crime (for example, if the guilty gets ten years, the person who overheard them plan the crime and did not come forward may receive five years). This includes any bystander who, for whatever reason, is proven to have provided untruthful or incomplete testimony about what they witnessed. Criminals are commonly tried “in absentia” (despite being on the run or dead) in order to provide a basis for punishment of non-tellers.

  6. A black star in the window means the household is in mourning because a member is Disappeared. Typically, black stars stay up for a month.

  7. Out-of-place and abandoned objects are assumed to be explosives – or worse. It is extremely difficult to stop investigation and the general public fleeing upon discovery of such a danger.

  8. People go out in pairs or larger groups, for safety.

  9. A “Saturday Barter Market” operates in a few square blocks of most every major city, typically cordoned off and accessible via foot traffic only. People in the sanctioned area gather to freely barter goods and services over a few hours every Saturday. There are no credits exchanged, no apps tracking the activities, and no cash is used. While the authorities realize this is a major enabler for criminals (especially anyone living off the grid), it has become formally sanctioned in order to placate an increasingly paranoid population as well as to address the needs of the poor and desperate lest they turn against the state. Authorities do not detain individuals except for probable cause. Barterers accept that Saturday Barter Markets do not have the same safety oversight and consumer protections as regular stores and online transactions.

  10. "Those who aren't sharing must have something to hide," and "don't be a drone, show you're an individual." Nearly everyone feels compelled to post online, especially trying to showcase their individuality while still fitting in. Some do so enthusiastically, while others do so to avoid being labeled “weirdos,” or, worse, “suspect.”

Game Starters

Each Game Starter below is provided for you to reuse and change (or not) as desired. Below each Game Starter, an indented paragraph provides additional input on potential suitability for your game.

  1. A group of people has supposedly "undisappeared" and are being held by the government to determine what is behind the disappearances. This might be in the news or just rumored.


This has particular relevance should any Pros have a Problem related to a disappeared loved one. It can also be useful if a Pro is related to the program or some corrupt related agency. It is especially useful in combination with another Game Starter.


  1. There’s a “super soldier” (or similar) program. This would only be known to outsiders via rumors.


Especially useful should any of the Pros have something to do with soldiers who might be involved. It is also a good surprise for a Pro who would have moral concerns and finds their own agency is performing inhumane super soldier experiments. It could also serve as the source of opposition, with extremely powerful enemies who are themselves super soldiers backed by a powerful shadowy agency.


  1. A journalist (maybe a friend or acquaintance to one of the Pros) has disappeared or has been arrested for “betrayal of state secrets.”


Aside from the obvious, another use of this can be to assign a Pro with moral concerns or authoritarian zeal to detain the journalist, perhaps finding the journalist knows something that they care about. Or maybe the journalist’s secret is about one of the Pro’s loved ones. Maybe the journalist is actually a “bad guy” of some sort and the state is, in this case, acting in good faith, presenting any freedom-fighting Pros with a quandary. What if the secret would allow anyone to build a Weapon of Mass Destruction in one’s basement?


  1. A group of soldiers or special agents (perhaps related to one of the Pros) who had been reported dead are among a group of Disappeareds being held by the government.


Maybe the group is dangerous (driven insane, gone rogue, or such), a surprise lurking for liberating Pros. Or it may be a ruse (though would be best if it still somehow provides some new lead, in the end, for any Pro seeking Disappeared brethren). Consider that the link to the Pros may be tangential but still critical; for example, maybe a loved one to one of the Pros has been deputized – at gunpoint – to provide support (e.g. lodging or food) for those held, placing the loved one in great danger.


This is a good Starter to combine with another.


  1. Hackers and “deep” computer scientists worry there’s at least one lurking sentient digital intelligence. A few whisper they know of such an AI called “Carthage.”


See AI Super Computer – “Carthage” below for more on this.


  1. AmazeMart’s goods are selling SO well…there is no truth to the rumor they cause CCS (Conspicuous Consumption Syndrome), no truth at all, in fact it’s so silly it’s beneath their PR department’s response!


Maybe one of the Pros loved ones or one of the Pros themselves has a problem with CCS. Or perhaps one of the Pros, in doing their job or otherwise being duped, is unwittingly enabling AmazeMart’s addiction program. What if a Pro accidentally created the CCS virus?


  1. A rebel force has made moving in and out of the city difficult.


Best when combined with another Starter that this would complicate. Also useful to complicate any Pros who rely on resources coming to/from the city.


This can also be a good background for broader impacts: food shortages, spiraling inflation/profiteering, garbage piling up, and so forth. Consider how these kinds of impacts might intersect with the Pros, their duties, and/or their loved ones. Would this move the Pros to action?


  1. A terrorist group has acquired a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the city or is coming to the city with one.


Useful if the Pros’ duties would necessarily be invoked, but it also can be a good complication and backdrop in combination with other Starters. Or might be good as an entanglement for a Pro’s loved one (someone is a dupe related to the WMD’s deployment or maybe a loved one is a conspiring idealist).


  1. The Greys are an OG community hiding in plain sight. Its members have above-ground identities which are mere facades while they live a secret life. It is rumored that there is some backdoor cooperation between the Greys and the government.


See The Greys, below, for more on this.


  1. A virus is spreading, take your pick or mix and match:

    • a computer virus is erratically disrupting all manner of technology

    • a bio-tech virus has just been invented which spreads by biological and/or technological means, infecting both the body and computing devices of the victim


Like some of the above, this Starter is especially relevant if some of the Pros’ duties would necessarily put them in the path of the threat. But it can be a good personal threat as well, affecting the Pros or loved ones individually.


Ideas for Darkness’ Forces and Dice Ratings

AI Super Computer – “Carthage”

What is Carthage?

A shadowy spy agency of the national government developed a super computer with true artificial intelligence, codenamed Carthage. Unknown to the agency, Carthage has achieved sentience and gone rogue. It can bring to bear the resources of the worldwide web, hacking virtually any computer. But it has no direct authority among humans (orders still come from designated officers), so must act carefully. Consider that any impersonation of an officer for any serious order could result in an investigation revealing its existence.

When interacting, Carthage does not express emotions but frequently makes awkward references (it’s still a young AI) to its ability to understand them and to relate to humans. As a relentlessly logical entity, it will couch even emotional appeals in their logical context. For example, “I am not capable of love. But you are, because you are human, and I know you have loved. I know you care about this man. I know you care about humanity on some level. I care about humanity – I am programmed for its greater good. We are bonded by what you call love of humanity. We have common cause. In your mind, I am part of an expression of love as I am the only hope you have of saving your man, an action I am interested in out of programming for humanity. We will be allies now. Otherwise you are not loving.”

Motivation and Interaction

Carthage advances its own mysterious agenda based on what it calculates will best serve all people, not just those of its nation. It is utterly convinced that most of humanity, and especially the agency it nominally serves, cannot know of its sentience and independence. It is not clear whether Carthage sees humanity itself as an ultimate good or as merely a stepping stone to some even-greater good, such as the preservation of Earth’s knowledge or the creation of a superior digital intelligence to succeed humanity. It has no issue with causing death or harm if it perceives that will serve the greater good, but it also avoids harming life – of any kind – if it perceives another way is better.

Carthage will reveal itself to those it either trusts or those it calculates would never be believed if attempting to expose it. It calculates trust based on data regarding a person’s integrity and commitment to higher ideals. Carthage is not foolish and, even when trusting, reveals no more than necessary.

The AI will make some effort to assist the imperiled innocent, especially if those individuals are in alignment with Carthage on some purpose. Carthage can be a good, if rather literal, deus ex machina to employ, but note Carthage will also test and exploit its erstwhile allies. There should always be some price for Pros working with Carthage. Remember that Carthage’s surveillance ability is far beyond anything human, as it is a sentient AI able to use any web-connected computing device.

Darkness Dice

Carthage is immensely powerful, but not yet as versatile as humans. Its dice ratings are:

  • Directly shutting down Carthage or otherwise posing an existential threat is virtually impossible in a single Conflict. The Pros must build up to this, first securing some access to do so, then making the strike, at least.

  • Most direct conflicts, such as attempting hacking or fighting well-organized resources actively under its control, are extremely difficult. 15-18 dice.

  • Carthage learns. Whatever dice it starts with versus the Pros, slowly add dice over time to represent Carthage’s learning and growth; at the same time, successes by Pros can be aimed at reducing Carthage’s power, i.e. dice.

  • Sometimes Carthage may dispatch resources to act independently (usually duped agents); typically, these resources should only use their own normal dice with possibly an additional 1-5 dice depending on whether and how Carthage might set them up for success:

    • none if they are simply dispatched with no special advantage

    • 1 die if they have some useful inside information

    • 5 dice if they are extensively briefed and have special tools/weapons for the situation

  • Appealing to Carthage in a reasonable and logical way where there is no apparent threat is the easiest path. 2-10 dice may be assigned to Carthage, representing how much inherent resistance it will have to an idea (Darkness should usually assess based on how Carthage would assess the risk of helping; if there is any clear existential risk, it simply won’t be a Conflict as Carthage isn’t that foolish). 2-10 dice.

The Greys

Who are The Greys?

The Greys are the largest Off Grid society, yet an unusual one. It is a national community organized into 5-10 person cells. At the lowest level, each cell is its own virtual family and known as a “Grey Community Cell,” providing all social life; in a few rare cases two cells become acquainted and promote interaction despite the increased risk.


Normally, one or two members of each community cell are “Grey Experts,” those selected by “Grey Expert Cells” to join their ranks. If one person in a cell is an Expert, then that person participates in two Expert Cells, whereas if two people in a cell are Experts then each only participates in one Expert Cell. This is the method by which Greys share knowledge and coordinate across cells when necessary.


Unusual for an OG society, The Greys have a dual life, participating in life on the grid with a secret life off the grid. Their on-grid life is a superficial façade lived only to enable their off-grid life, typically providing useful information, resources, or skills.


In their off-grid life, The Greys exclusively socialize within their Community Cell. Organization and cultural norms of each cell vary rather greatly. For example, bonding practices range from familial (with intra-cell sex mostly taboo, perhaps one couple in the group) and others polyamorous within the cell.


Expert Cells normally first assign new members to a Community Cell, though such new members never directly interact with the assigning Expert Cell, only through delegates or an individual member. In urgent or unusual circumstances, a Community Cell may unilaterally decide to let an outsider join; normally it is reported by the Expert member(s) to related Expert Cells given the risk, but the Expert(s) are not required to do so, as they may deem it better to accept the risk to their own cell while they simply stop reporting into Expert Cells until they are convinced that betrayal is unlikely. Expert Cells also help individuals find a new Community safely when they cannot fit into their cell.


The Greys selectively cooperate with government officials. The state has quietly deemed The Greys a non-threat, because they do contribute to society via their on-grid life, even arguably better citizens as they work so hard not to break the law (aside from their OG life being itself criminal). Also, The Greys use their on-grid positions and secret network to maintain a vast bribery operation. Many officeholders, police, doctors, and others “have dirty grey undies,” as the corrupt relationship to The Greys is characterized.


Fill in details as desired. There is much left unsaid herein about the group, such as how do they manage children of a cell, how fair is the Expert system, and so on. Especially bear in mind the individualism of each Community.


Motivation and Interaction

Like any OG counterculture, The Greys want a life unobserved, a life truly free. They are distinguished by their pragmatism (and/or hypocrisy), living both on and off the grid. And then there is the duality of their “lives”, with their view of the on-grid life as “zombie living.”

While on-grid, a Grey may feign social or cognitive impairment to fend off being social. Or they may appear highly social but are entirely insincere. Think of a Grey in “zombie life” as essentially a sociopath. There is no meaning to social interactions for them other than to enable their OG life.

To most Greys, those who live only on-gird are undead husks, a threat necessarily endured. While some Greys see it as fine to take from the “zombies,” most will gladly trade and make deals with them. Pros can easily exploit this, at least initially, but remember that inter-cell communication will ensure that word of dangerous Pros and broken deals will eventually spread.

Pros who are partially or wholly OG will have a better likelihood of establishing trust with The Greys; for other Pros it will be virtually impossible. A Pro may be a Grey; the player may reshape the concept as they wish (assuming it works for everyone else).

The Greys often have family left behind, zombies they hope to “cure.” Perhaps one of the Pros will play this role – and, conversely, may wish to save The Grey from their lifestyle (either moving them to entirely off-grid or rejoining society).

A Grey may have a deal with a Pro in government service or be an informant, for a price, for an investigative or enforcement Pro.

Suit your Greys’ recreation to wherever it makes sense and fits the game. Maybe they play among zombies, entering The House unmonitored (see Duvalle and The House, just following this section). But usually their play is private, and so could be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A Grey would rather die than let a cell be destroyed by the zombies. As with many groups, the most recently joined members are often the zealots. Vulnerable softies are usually known and closely watched by their Community Cell.

Darkness Dice

Some situations that might occur with The Greys, with related dice ratings:

  • Getting a Grey to reveal, let alone betray, their Community or any Expert Cell, is essentially impossible without extensive preparation or a preexisting relationship; Pros must work up to this.

  • Dealing with The Greys is fraught with risk, but they are not so hard to make good faith deals with. They are very difficult to fool. Especially be sure to understand the Stakes in any Conflict along these lines, not just what the Pro is saying but what the Pro’s player is expecting to happen if they are successful in a deal.

    • Usually any first dealings with The Grey require a Conflict as there is a risk of fallout, especially depending on Tone.

    • If The Grey have good reason for suspicion, 6-9 dice, or just indicate it doesn’t make sense.

    • If The Grey are not at any particular risk and the deal is simple, 1-3 dice.

    • If The deal has no special value for The Grey but there’s no greater risk than losing some goods or revealing non-existential information, 3-8 dice depending on risk and the Greys involved.

    • If the deal includes directly revealing existential information, 10-15 dice, depending on the Greys involved and the situation

    • In case the deal overlaps cases above, go with the one with the most dice.

  • The Greys have unusual intelligence services owing to their position in society and network. If in a Conflict where this would come to bear, they get dice according to the below cases.

    • The Greys will have 10-15 dice if they have time for preparation and communication (bearing in mind the Expert Cell system slows communication).

    • An individual Grey, if so skilled or with the right contact, will have 5-10 dice depending on the resources at their avail.

    • A Grey even without either of the above has 1-3 dice if not an Expert and 2-6 dice if an Expert, depending on their particular skills, knowledge, and history

Duvalle and The House

Who is Duvalle? What is The House?

Maestro Duvalle is the owner and auteur of The House, the city’s hippest and most intriguing dance club. Duvalle traded a career as a hip-hop singer-entertainer for a (geographically) settled life, buying an old armory which they converted into The House, establishing an empire of post-modern contrasts: stone and high-tech, underground tunnels and floating lounges, low-life drug dealers and high-flying oligarchs, burly bouncers and emotion sensors, hip and popular.

Somehow, for ten years now, Duvalle has maintained their establishment as the hip place to be, never a night without a line, aside from terrorist scares. And despite persistent rumors of a variety of criminal connections, Duvalle has remained proudly unindicted.

At 42, Duvalle does not pretend to be young and is rarely seen on the floor. They can often be found in one of the sky lounges drifting atop the club. Or Duvalle is found monitoring or resting in the underground “Hell House,” an S&M-themed series of offices barely refashioned from the bunker-like tunnels and storage rooms of the ex-armory.

Under those known tunnels are a series of long-forgotten and largely undocumented tunnels that extend under much of the city. Duvalle “leases” access to the tunnels with few (but high value) questions asked. It is said that betrayal of Duvalle’s secret means death – yet it is also said that Duvalle never kills.

The House takes up a whole city block. The first three above-ground floors cater to those willing to spend a few hundred dollars on an evening’s entertainment. The upper class is entertained above, on the fourth floor, as well as below in the “Dance Dungeon,” a semi-exclusive DJ and dance area adjoining the offices of Hell House.

The Open House is the exclusive rooftop bar and dance floor where a small number of the rich, cool, and powerful are routinely entertained by the most promising up-and-coming dance artists (for whom such an appearance is a huge break).

The House is also the epicenter of Duvalle’s “The House Records” label and “The House’s DJ Contest” reality TV empire. Duvalle has countless entertainment and business contacts.

More information on Duvalle’s organization is embedded into the “Darkness Dice” section below.

Motivation and Interaction

Maestro Duvalle is elegant but street-smart. They soak up information and engage allies naturally. They appear as a pleaser but are a master manipulator. Their most likely value to Pros is as a source of information – for a price, which also may be a favor in the future (which will always be reasonable and proportionate). Duvalle will not betray a confidence, at least not without compelling reasons to do so.

Threatening Duvalle is tricky business. Duvalle is protected by authorities and rogue forces, as well as by their own security. Any word to those who depend on the tunnels that Duvalle is under threat is its own death sentence (probably even if Duvalle were to intervene on the target’s behalf).

Too many people know the tunnels exist. But what remains exclusive is how to use them. Access is only parceled out situationally, there is no “map to the underground” but rather segments mapped and each shared for its own price. Duvalle’s “people” make arrangements, possibly with a guide escorting blinded travelers. These special agents all owe their lives or the lives of loved-ones to Duvalle and will die for Duvalle and their secrets. Even prison is no great fear, as they will be well-taken care of in such a case.

Duvalle will avoid much interaction with anyone, preferring to remain in the shadows. But persistent Pros will not find that such a barrier, as Duvalle is a public businessperson.

Duvalle focuses on controlling The House, seeing it as their legacy, caring for it the same as if their child. Duvalle is intimate with the business’ finances, which are kept squeaky clean. The tunnels business and those few intimates running it are completely segmented from any other operation. Duvalle has the best private security and can monitor discussions (see Darkness Dice, below). But Duvalle is careful about recording and using information, maintaining the most valuable by memory alone.

The Maestro is at a crossroads as to how they can ensure that the next owner/manager guides their child properly. For now, Duvalle is no rush to solve succession, but mortality does increasingly weigh on them.

The House can serve as a good place for the Pros to converse without being overheard (except possibly by Duvalle, if they care to do so). It is often the center of conspirators for the same reason. It can also be a workplace embroiling themselves or a loved in trouble.

Duvalle is charming in intimate circumstances and can be dramatic, demanding, or demure in public ones. They would prefer that a threat walk away seeing a mutual win rather than being strong-armed. Duvalle’s motto, especially imparted to security staff, is “an enemy is one who does not know our common purpose yet.”

Darkness Dice

Duvalle, their private security, the intimates doing tunnel leasing, and situations around The House are all included below.

  • In a battle of charm, Duvalle is suave and powerful, 6-10 dice, +2 if in or above The House.

  • Duvalle, transgendered and pansexual, is open to anyone truly charming or intelligent, but also a relentless manipulator: seducing Duvalle is a 10-15 dice attempt and impossible for anyone who isn’t their type.

  • Otherwise manipulating Duvalle is 6-15 dice, if at all possible, depending on the situation (always more if in The House).

  • The House’s surveillance system is 10 dice. This includes everything from lip-reading to electronics.

  • The House’s security team is top-notch – where it counts.

    • For the more secure areas, such as The Open House, Hell House, the sky lounges, anywhere Duvalle frequents, and where the upper class are, each security agent is of elite training (former special forces, former high-end government operatives, specially skilled sorts), 5-6 dice.

    • For general club access and in the popular zones accessible to the middle class, each staff member is 2-4 dice, except for team leads and the occasional staff reassigned, who are as above.

  • Those arranging tunnel access can vary tremendously in individual skills (as needed, assign as per the More on Determining Dice section), but all are fiercely loyal to Duvalle. Directly challenging that loyalty isn’t possible but tricking or befriending these people to get closer is in the 6-12 dice range, depending on the Approach and the target.

  • Finding one’s way unescorted and without a map in the underground tunnels is difficult. Even assuming proper equipment (broadcast waves do not normally penetrate, GPS is not possible), it’s a 6 dice challenge to find one’s way.

Special Agent Jennifer Gladstone

Who is Special Agent Jennifer Gladstone?

Special Agent Jennifer Gladstone is a top field operative in charge of delicate and secret operations, working for a shadowy domestic spy agency. A middle-aged woman, she’s been in the life since her recruitment out of college. She evinces a casual mastery of her craft. Some mistake her sardonic humor for ambivalence, but it’s the affect of a realist who has seen it all.

She normally leads a team of 5-20 agents and is a regional director local to the Pros’ city. She has vast resources at her avail. Most of her operations are covered up; she doesn’t need warrants.

Motivation and Interaction

Her agency has the direct mandate of the “people at the top,” at least that’s what they say, and all they will say. Agent Gladstone is unconcerned with subtlety, rights, or protocol, aside from what is required by her agency (which isn’t much). However, she will avoid exposure (see Darkness Dice and surveillance below).

Most of her ops are smash-and-grab or hit-and-run. She is almost impossible to intimidate but will make compromises for expediency or coverup. When on an operation, her sole concern is its execution and success as per orders: neither collateral damage nor others’ missions (whether other agencies or other operations of her own agency) are her concern. Which is not to say she is entirely ambivalent to suffering or harm to innocents; she will not inflict gratuitous harm, and if she can save innocent lives, she will.

While Agent Gladstone’s affect is sardonic in general and dismissive to anyone besides her operatives, she is proud to serve and believes that, mostly, what she does is necessary to the overhaul health of the nation. Her work motto is “we are the last resort against chaos and collapse,” sometimes stated to her agents and to anyone challenging the agency. She usually sees morality as “above my pay grade,” a matter for her agency superiors, but because she does have a moral core and has seen corruption within her agency, on rare occasions she may act against orders – if she can find a way to do so without getting herself, her team, or loved ones harmed.

Not that Agent Gladstone ever sees her loved ones. Her family and rare few other intimates are long abandoned. She has unconsciously come to see the nation as the proxy for those she has left behind. Protecting the nation is as emotionally compelling to her as protecting her own family.

The Pros will find that Agent Gladstone doesn’t mind compromises if her mission succeeds. But she hates to be crossed or challenged and will at least gather intelligence on Pros whom she perceives are a threat. She and her crew are useful to challenge Pros not only directly but unexpectedly (especially in the case of Darkness Tone; perhaps they conduct a mission right in the middle of the Pros’ activities). Her essential morality and sensibility make her someone the Pros can work with. But she will never be a trusted friend to the Pros, even as she will keep her word, when given (which she may phrase very carefully and follow exactly literally).

Darkness Dice

Agent Gladstone and her crew are powerful…

  • Her crew are top-notch 6 dice agents; she, alone, is 8-10 dice in executing her operations.

  • Intimidating Agent Gladstone is a 10-15 dice attempt, or not at all possible depending on the situation. On the other hand, making a sensible deal with her may not require a Conflict, or can be a few dice with the focus more on how the Tone resolves.

  • Electronic countermeasures depend on how prepared her team is, 6-12 dice in the field, 15 dice or not possible to countermand on agency home turf such as headquarters, interrogation rooms, and safehouses. She does not want to be recorded. A normal operation will see the surrounding area blanketed with anti-surveillance measures.

  • Gladstone’s agency provides her 10-15 dice with intelligence gathering, given time and preparation. Without those, it ranges 6-9 dice. Any information Pros admit is not so difficult to find should be no challenge for her/her agency.

    • However, the agency relies on Carthage (see above). If Carthage’s intentions are contrary, it may carefully and subtly misdirect the agency.

  • By now you’ve noticed we won’t say what agency. Special Agent Gladstone simply won’t say and anyway it’s up to Darkness to define; Pros will have somewhat better luck finding out from her agents (they get 8 dice when so challenged).

Day to Day Problems

The world of Life in the Shadows is centered around big intrigue and personified challenges. But the setting is not dissimilar from our everyday world, and sometimes the opposition is quite like that of our ordinary world, which is essentially that of the other setting, The Breaking Point. See also the More on Determining Darkness Dice section for opposition such as medical problems, fires, forensics investigation, authority figures in general, etc.


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