Nightwatch: Ch. 5.5 – Night Time Adventures

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[5] Powers and Principalities

[5.5] Night Time Adventures

Nightwatch may represent a gray, banal evil, but opposing it is never boring. Hiding from columns of armband-wearing thugs marching in the streets, sabotaging propaganda efforts with wit and style, turning the tables on unofficially sanctioned vigilantes, sneaking vital information to military allies and rescuing brave but helpless dissidents from reeducation centres are all exploits that hold special places in the modern human psyche.

While Nightwatch is not a military force or an espionage division, sizeable fractions of both the military and intelligence communities have joined the organisation, particularly among the upper ranks. A campaign centred around fighting Nightwatch can focus around diplomacy, combat, intrigue or any combination thereof.

[5.5.1] Vive La Resistance!

The basic Nightwatch campaign is obvious. Player characters are in a position to oppose Clark’s agenda, either through supporting the underground at home or by fighting back more openly on a colony or station. They can choose to resist Nightwatch secretly or openly unless forced into a situation where they can only fight or yield. Nightwatch’s history has been analysed in detail earlier in this book, so this campaign seed will focus on player character options.

The Earth Resistance: Like the French and German anti-Nazi forces in World War II, no members of the resistance are more needed or in more danger than those on the homeworld. Earth citizens must deal with the greatest surveillance, the largest numbers of Nightwatch forces and the most extensive resources of any rebel group. While Mars suffers greater military violence, Earth is kept under tight control by the twin weapons of the government’s vast power and the large numbers of citizens who agree with Clark’s agenda. Nightwatch sympathisers are never a majority, but they make up a significant minority and any one of them can become an informer. Only those who take part in the Shadow war will face greater odds. Players looking for challenges and heroic opportunities for their characters, however, will be hard pressed to do better. Player characters can come from all walks of life, from ordinary workers to legendary agents and from desperate lurkers to the most powerful officers in EarthForce. Alien characters will have significant problems taking part in such a campaign, with Nightwatch monitoring every move they make, but some might enjoy the challenge.

The Mars Resistance: Mars rebels do have some significant difficulties that their Earth-based counterparts do not. With the need for pressurised buildings simply to survive, any battle is dangerous, and EarthForce could easily take out the entire colony from orbit with a few well placed bombing runs. Nevertheless, even Nightwatch is not willing or ready to destroy the entire Mars colony, and the Marsies have been fighting a rebellion against the Alliance for years. Unlike Earthers, the Mars resistance has long experience and a broad, deep base of support to turn to when things get ugly in Geneva. Nightwatch propaganda is far more likely to be seen for what it is. Marsies are not likely to turn informant, for fear of the resistance if nothing else. Martial Law is nothing new to the Mars colony, and many will see it as an opportunity to start fighting back again. Ethical resistance fighters will have another problem, though. Free Mars and other radical terrorist groups undermine their genuinely noble struggle by committing atrocities of their own, murdering civilians for revenge rather than freedom. Liberating Mars will not be as difficult as saving Earth, but it will have challenges that Earthers will never face. This campaign will be much more heavily focussed on espionage and military activity. Aliens will have more opportunities to take part, but Marsies by and large want to free themselves.

Resistance in the Colonies: Every colony will face a different situation, some favouring independence, others hoping to free the Alliance from Clark and a few remote locations remaining virtually untouched by Martial Law. Still, while the stakes may typically be lower, the situations are more likely to give a handful of quick thinkers a chance to shine. A group of player characters who lead the fight against Nightwatch could become the Founding Fathers of a new, free civilisation. On the other hand, as the example of Proxima 3 shows, if Earth takes a serious interest in a colony the battle will be rather one-sided unless the colony receives help. Alien characters can play a much larger role in such an adventure, ranging anywhere from smuggling supplies planetside to stopping an attack with a fleet of Sharlin warcruisers or Vree war saucers. Earth propaganda will then slander the colony as alien co-conspirators, for all the good it will do them.

EarthForce Resistance: For a particularly poignant military campaign, the player characters could be members of EarthForce who, like General Hague and Captain Sheridan, cannot in good conscience continue to serve a military that issues illegal orders and serves a tyranny. Prior to Martial Law, such characters will have to contend with the growing shadow conspiracy and the expanding reach of Nightwatch. Sooner or later, ships, bases and outposts will be assigned political officers, forcing EarthForce members loyal to their constitutional oaths to work around them. When Martial Law is declared, the true military campaign begins. At first, rebel ships are treated as pirate vessels, and most are alone and on the run. The situation will seem hopeless in the beginning. As time passes, if the characters survive long enough, they will encounter other ships who share their loyalties and they will have the chance to take the offensive. All the while, the player characters will have to contend with sabotage, informants, threats to their families and obscene slanders about them on ISN.

[5.5.2] Straw Men

“He who fights against monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

So you want to lure your players’ characters into Nightwatch, but all the players are huge fans of the show. What can you do? Though it may not seem like it, drawing a group of heroic humans into an organisation such as Nightwatch can be very easy. Just hit them in their idealism.

The first thing to do is simply change the name. Nightwatch is infamous among Babylon 5 fans for good reason. It is arguably a symbol of everything foul and despicable in the human race. Removing that easy symbol also takes away its visceral power, giving the Games Master the necessary opening. The theoretical successor division listed in Chapter Two, the Dawn Patrol, should do nicely in this regard. Next, give the heroes a seemingly genuine internal threat to cleanse EarthGov of. Nightwatch itself serves nicely in this regard, ironically enough. Finally, alter the propaganda to fit the heroes’ outlook. Many players are quite creative when it comes to bending rules, so give them a contact who grants them considerable “leeway” when fighting these dangerous foes. Let them think they are getting away with something as they track down their enemies. Let them follow circumstantial evidence to victory. Let them make connections through the rhetoric of rivals and through association. Give them plenty of rope. You will know when the noose is tied.

This plan is contingent on having genuine enemies of the peace and security of the Earth Alliance to fight, at least in the beginning. Choose a telepathic Centauri spy, a fanatic Minbari assassin, an organised crime boss, a terrorist, or any similar villain for the player characters to match wits with at first. Players are usually fairly intelligent and must be lulled into a false sense of security before moving on to more ambiguous threats. The political extremist whose legal actions are merely questionable is one example of a foe they can oppose during this transition.

Eventually, the player characters are going to be faced with a choice. It does not have to be clear or obvious, but they should be able to determine that their superiors have gone a step too far, if they are willing to ask questions. A Minbari “agent” who turns out to be no more than a secretive diplomat, a blustering Narn who only wants to recruit allies and a human protestor framed for terrorist acts are examples of potential targets for this replacement of Nightwatch. If the player characters see through their agency’s deception, the real adventure begins with their estrangement from EarthGov. Otherwise, they must face what they’ve done when their superiors take part in Clark’s coup.

Unless the player characters serve Earth Alliance secretly, there is an additional way to seduce them into “Nightwatch.” Fame is a powerful enticement for players and player characters alike, and if the political office can increase its agency’s popularity by making heroes of prominent members, so much the better. At first, this should be a wonderful perk for the player characters, who will star in public service announcements promoting their cause. As time passes, this perk will turn sour when the promotion takes a darker turn. Posters with their faces will have slogans like “traitors can’t hide” and “ever vigilant” written across them. Adulation will slowly mix with fear as ordinary citizens come to see them as embodiments of the Ministry’s inescapable oversight. Naturally, should the player characters use their fame to openly criticise the use of their images in propaganda, “Nightwatch” will turn that propaganda against them. As the example of Captain Sheridan demonstrates, no hero is too famous or beloved to smear beyond recognition.

[5.5.3] Reeducation 101

As mentioned, Nightwatch does not have the resources to fully “reeducate” everyone it captures. Because of its reputation for breaking captured enemies, however, sections with fewer resources have a backup option available to them. If a mid-level resistance leader or agent is captured, and the captors are unable to break them for whatever reason, they simply hold him for a plausible period of time, rough him up occasionally, keep him incommunicado…then let him go. Nightwatch does not give the former captive any explanation or excuse for his release. Alternately, if Nightwatch wants the target to believe the release was not deliberate, it can ensure he escapes or is “rescued.” The resistance member can now freely return to his group. The wise agent will make sure that he is not being tracked, but for this purpose, tracing is not the objective.

When the rebel rejoins his group, the other members will not trust him. Obviously, Nightwatch broke him, then released him for use as a reprogrammed mole in their cell. As the victim relates his tale, some will believe it and others will not, creating discord within the group. Ideally, they will become emotional, making the unit sloppy and vulnerable. Eventually, the group will make a fatal error or shatter, allowing Nightwatch to swoop in and clean up the mess.

Telepathy might prove the truth, if the rebels have a rogue on their side and if the Nightwatch cell that captured the agent did not, two very big “ifs.” A talented or experienced telepath can leave psychic markers in the victim’s brain, creating the illusion of hidden tampering. It will take a great deal of work and skill to uncover this ruse, and rogues with this level of ability are in far shorter supply than regular blips, a rare breed themselves.

As a truly wicked twist, Games Masters can use this scheme when player characters are captured. To keep the players on their toes, the Games Master can make a few secret rolls before Nightwatch releases the characters. By the time they unravel the entire mystery, the characters may be doubting themselves, wondering if Nightwatch really did do something to them. Who knows what tricks of memory the masters of deceit can manage? The example of Talia Winters can have particular weight with fans of the series. Games Masters who wish to actually use the possibility of reprogramming characters, see page XX for the rules pertaining to reeducation.

[5.5.4] Coda

No more! No more of you! No more Nightwatch, no more hostages, no more lies! Not on my station! Not on my watch! No more!
— John Sheridan

Nightwatch is evil, but more than that, it represents the banality of evil. Wearing the face of a local sheriff, a neighbour or a friend, it will tear that face off to reveal a terrible blankness the moment an enemy lets his guard down. Everywhere and nowhere, supported by emotional propaganda while run by a soulless machine, Nightwatch is the most dangerous foe a human character can face because it uses the very society that supports humanity as a weapon. Facing such banality, such evil, takes more than a quick wit and a fast PPG. It takes the courage to face shadowy connections, the smearing of reputations, the destruction of careers, the dagger in the night. It takes the patience and wisdom to see through the lies and look for the truth. It takes the endurance to keep fighting while whispers of sweet venom tell characters that Nightwatch is right, even if they are not it is all for the best, even if mistakes are made it is easier to give in.

Beating Nightwatch is even harder. It means balancing pragmatism and idealism. It means making sacrifices and compromises without letting either justify the means. It means fighting a long grinding war with an enemy that has nearly endless resources and no honour whatsoever. It means believing that justice and freedom are worth the time, pain and effort. It means being a hero, a real hero, not the kind in the vids. Maybe the most important kind of hero…the one who stands up and says “no more.”

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