"Any type of Black Ops campaign can be run as a historical campaign . . . "
Shades of Black: Alternate Black Ops
-- Jeff Koke and S. John Ross, GURPS Black Ops, p. 58
Or so they claim, but they only take it back to Roswell. But surely, Grey evil plots and giant leeches lurk throughout the history of our clement world. In every time and every era there must be men, jut-jawed men, men honed to the finest pitch of human perfection, ready to drive back Those Things and leave the world safe for decent folk to live in. Herewith, then, in honor of the reprinting of GURPS Black Ops, are five historical Black Ops frames, suitable for the most action-packed monster-smacking the far side of 1947. Run any of them solo, or throw Strike Force Chronos into a temporal gate rigged up by Tech Division to blast free a chunk of Earth's history from the Grey grasp of Bad Evil.
"O black and unknown bards of long ago
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know?"
-- James Weldon Johnson, "O Black and Unknown Bards"
Sure, it all sounds grand, lots of acorn wine and dancing with swan-mays, but you and I know that the Good Folk aren't all that Good. They kidnap folk, and demand the best of everything, and drain our very lives for their amusement. They're shadowless beings from Otherwhere, is what they are, and the sooner a few bold black-robed types bring their unseelie castles down, the sooner we'll have green and pleasant isles that we can all be proud of. The Black Bards work to break mankind (or at least Prydain and Eriu) free of the Faerie, using berserk fighting arts of a deeply cinematic kind (think Drunken Fighting with shillelaghs and go on from there), experimental ogham inscriptions (sure and the boys at Talisman Division are almost positive they've gotten the bugs worked out of that particular gesa), and visionary trips to Dom-Daniel undercover thanks to our lads in Strike Force Changeling. The Tree Magic from GURPS Celtic Myth is just too cool not to include, and the Sidhe are roughly equivalent to the Greys in terms of kicking human ass. If the Fae get a little thin on the trod, a monster-stomp hunting down loch monsters, afanc, and similar Annwn-beasts can keep the Black Bards in fighting trim.
". . . [O]ne might speak here of black as the uniform of a strict-disciplined force, of a severely spartan holy army, since the Hospitallers . . . were at the same time real soldiers . . ."
-- John Harvey, Men in Black
Or we can switch it up from Yeats to Scott, and go on crusade against alien infidels from beyond the fixed stars, who call themselves djinn and manipulate the Saracens into war against Christendom and all civilization. (And, for the GM who roots for the paynim, the Black Order can team up with elite ghazis who rebel at the godless djinn's power over corrupt emirs.) A capture mission might center on nabbing a flying carpet and smuggling it back to the silk works at Lyon, just as a cover-up mission might involve leveling some monastery run by a Dominican who's gotten a little too close to the truth. Black Knights roll into battle wearing alchemically-potent chainmail designed by Philosophy Division and wielding "handgonnes" smuggled down the Silk Road from China and reverse engineered by the Mechanism Division. Monsters run thick through the streets of medieval Paris, however (note to Heraldry Division: check on Lodge or Prima involvement with the stonemasons guilds putting all those gargoyles on the cathedrals), and a village of brainsucked peasant zombies can be surprisingly threatening, especially hopped up on ergotic rye. Cinematic two-handed swordplay (using top-secret Nipponese steel techniques to beat the monomolecular Damascene blades of the Grey puppets in the Caliphate) can't be beat for excitement, unless it's by stealing Alexander's diving bell from the Museum of Alexandria and using it to hunt down a kraken below the ruins of Santorini island.
"Light thickens, and the crow
Makes wing to th' rooky wood;
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse
And night's black agents to their preys do rouse"
-- William Shakespeare, Macbeth, III:ii:50-53
When Queen Elizabeth needs those pesky Gullets and Rockworms routed out of the wells and forests of Albion, to whom does she vouchsafe her privy seal? Why, to the Black Operatives of the School of Night, of course. Centered in the remote Wiltshire downs, the Black Operatives rove wherever the interests of Englishmen or humanity are threatened. Many of the Black Operatives ride along with sea dog captains and carry out missions of reconnaissance and discovery in the insectile jungles of Guiana or the Lodge's library island somewhere off the coast of India. You'll find them firing salt shot into ghost ships in the Caribbean, and hunting ice weasels in frozen northern Muscovy -- and dodging the Black Horse of the Oprichnina. After the Grey Dons who pull the strings of Spain, perhaps the Oprichniks are the Black Operatives' worst enemies -- for they are what they could become. Rumor has it that Ivan the Terrible, concerned about the infestation of monstrosities and aliens in Mother Russia, set up his own elite hunters -- but either the power or the brainsquids got to them, and now they ravage without qualm, endangering the safety of all Europe with their careless murders and open use of black sorceries. Fortunately, the Star Chamber keeps an eye on England's Black Operatives, and the Omicron Pendant never leaves an Operative's throat.
"You look best in black -- which is a great compliment, for people must be very distinguished in appearance in order to do so."
-- Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Pelham
Ah, the glitter of a court ball. Surely, the elegant lord in black must win the heart of that comely countess -- see, he makes so bold as to touch her wrist! Oh, she faints, overcome by the war of breeding and passion! How deftly he whisks her languid form behind the damask curtains. And how rapidly he pours vitriol over her suddenly grey and shrunken form, leaving only a powdery ash for the servants as he departs through the secret panel. Cross a Regency romance with a Dumas swashbuckler and stir in the shapeshifting Grey menace, and you have a tale of the Black League. You could set such stories in the glittering courts of Louis XIV and crank up the rapier wit and rapier wounds with GURPS Swashbucklers (the half you weren't using for the Black Operatives above). Or you could posit a France under the thumb of psionic alien influences and send Mercury Branch agents of the Black Pimpernel into Paris to rescue the Merovingian bloodline from the vampire Robespierre. Break out the GURPS Scarlet Pimpernel for flair, and for the polished public side of the League. Athena Branch keeps England safe, just as Apollo Branch plumbs the mysteries of the aether and electrico-magnetism for possible dangers from other dimensions. Keep the swordplay and acrobatics properly cinematic; if you also want to blow things up real good, there's advanced forms of guncotton waiting in the hold of a ship in Calais harbor -- and primitive forms of megalodon waiting in the fens of East Anglia. But, such gaucheries aside, this is the most glittering of our alternate Black Ops; Savoir-Faire is le mot juste herein. Amp up the unlikeliness with Baron Munchausen, or the conspiracies with le Comte de Saint-Germain; the polished villains and the ringing repartee are just as important as the sleek caplock revolvers of Vulcan Branch and the esoteric savate of the Mars Branch.
"The hangman asked of the carrion crow, but the raven made reply,
Black ride the men who ride with Death beneath the midnight sky"
-- Robert E. Howard, "Death's Black Riders"
President Lincoln had a lot on his mind, but not so much that he couldn't see that there was more than one Grey threat to the Union. In 1865, he authorized the Black Marshals, to travel wherever they needed and do whatever they had to to keep America out of the clutches of the Martian menace. The Martians (or their brainsucker allies) killed him for it, but the Marshals rode west and went to ground at Fort Freedom, out in Nevada Territory. In their black airships and secret trains, the War Company strikes hard at skinwalkers in the Arizona Territory and Martian bases under New Mexico. The News Company looks into rumors of Aztec death cults and keeps an eye on the Blacklines of covert telegraphy, as the Gadget Company takes delivery of the new shipment of electrical ghost-detectors from their chief designer, "Mister E of Menlo Park." Meanwhile the Brain Company works on using peyote and Chinese meditation techniques to develop mind-powers akin to the Martians' and the Warden Company keeps Fort Freedom safe from too-nosy prospectors. The Marshals recruit not only cowboys and cavalrymen, but Indian medicine men and scouts, Chinese tong fighters and herbalists, ex-slave conjure men and Mexican picadors. Any man (or woman -- ask Annie Oakley) who can pitch in and kick the Martians off the planet -- and can survive the toughening-up process called the Gauntlet -- gets the Omicron Badge and the black hat. Once they've proved themselves, War Company might even share one of its fancy new Gatling rifles. Saddle up, pardner; you might be burning the last daylight the world has left.
Article publication date: May 7, 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.