Night’s Black Agents won two silver ENnie awards for Best Game and BestWriting, and was nominated for Best Rules, Best Interior Art and Product of the Year. Find out why!
Night’s Black Agents puts you in the role of a deadly secret agent, taking down the forces of darkness. Get it now from the Pelgrane Store.
Bring your favorite high-octane spy thrillers to the table with Night’s Black Agents from legendary designer Kenneth Hite (Trail of Cthulhu). Have friends who love console shooters? This is the tabletop RPG for them! Access the eyes-only Resources page for blank agent dossiers, quick-reference sheets, a 20-minute demo and more — but sweep for tracking devices first.
The Cold War is over. Bush’s War is winding down.
You were a shadowy soldier in those fights, trained to move through the secret world: deniable and deadly.
Then you got out, or you got shut out, or you got burned out. You didn’t come in from the cold. Instead, you found your own entrances into Europe’s clandestine networks of power and crime. You did a few ops, and you asked even fewer questions. Who gave you that job in Prague? Who paid for your silence in that Swiss account? You told yourself it didn’t matter.
It turned out to matter a lot. Because it turned out you were working for vampires.
Vampires exist. What can they do? Who do they own? Where is safe? You don’t know those answers yet. So you’d better start asking questions. You have to trace the bloodsuckers’ operations, penetrate their networks, follow their trail, and target their weak points. Because if you don’t hunt them, they will hunt you. And they will kill you.
Night’s Black Agents brings the GUMSHOE engine to the spy thriller genre, combining the propulsive paranoia of movies like Ronin and The Bourne Identity with supernatural horror straight out of Bram Stoker. Investigation is crucial, but it never slows down the action, which explodes with expanded options for bone-crunching combat, high-tech tradecraft, and adrenaline-fueled chases.
Updating classic Gothic terrors for the postmodern age, Night’s Black Agents presents thoroughly modular monstrosity: GMs can build their own vampires, mashup their own minions, kitbash their own conspiracies to suit their personal sense of style and story. Rules options let you set the level of betrayal, grit, and action in your game. Riff from the worked examples or mix and match vampiric abilities, agendas, and assets for a completely custom sanguinary spy saga.
The included hook adventure gets the campaign going; the included city setting shows you what might be clotting in Marseilles’ veins even now. Rack silver bullets in your Glock, twist a UV bulb into your Maglite, and keep watching the mirrors … and pray you’ve got your vampire stories straight.
Designer’s blog entries.
An interview with the publisher.
Listen to Ken Hite talk about Night’s Black Agents on the Fear the Boot podcast
Read all the reviews here.
As good as the toolkits that Night’s Black Agents provides are, the rules and advice deliver on the game and genre that they promise. Whether it is blood pumping action or heart stopping shocks, Night’s Black Agents is probably best shaken, and definitely has the “Vampire Spy Thriller” staked. – Matthew Pook
Vampires and spies – once you’re past the initial surprise, you’ll see that they work tremendously well in tandem. Well, I think they do, and I think the book’s an absolute knockout. – Sidney Roundwood
In The Dracula Dossier, one of my favorite campaign frames — inserted at Simon’s insistence, and written mostly by Gareth — is “Unto the Fourth Generation,” in which you play the whole saga of Operation Edom from 1894 to 1940 to 1977 to now. That’s right, you begin as the original 1894 heroic band — the cast of Dracula.
- It looks like Mina has found some sort of dossier.
Sadly, space considerations prevent us from inserting full-on character sheets for the original 1894 band into the Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook. (It’s a quarter of a million words long, people.) But perhaps we’ll mock up some lovely Victorian Night’s Black Agents character sheets and put the following pre-gen stats into them as a freebie PDF for backers and buyers. Until then, here are the numbers raw, as Van Helsing might say.
N.B: These builds use the Victorian agent builds from Double Tap. They also feature 20 Investigative points per character (assuming a party of 5 or more agents) and 60 General build points per character (assuming mostly civilians, not yet trained badass vampire hunters). For the same reason, these pre-gens don’t receive free points in Streetwise, Tradecraft, Network, or Cover. They show “float points,” indicating build points unassigned at the start: assign those as you need them in play. Each character gets a dramatic 3 rating in their individual specialty; some character abilities are a tiny stretch (Mina’s skill at shorthand probably wouldn’t really convey Cryptography ability) in order to make sure all the abilities are covered.
Jonathan Harker, Solicitor and Free-Climber
Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (German, Latin), Law 3, Research 1, Bullshit Detector 1, Bureaucracy 1, Middle Class 2, Interrogation 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (4 Investigative float points)
Athletics 8, Conceal 4, Driving 1, Health 6, Infiltration 2, Network 7, Riding 1, Sense Trouble 5, Stability 6, Weapons 5 (23 General float points)
Wilhelmina Murray, Instinctive Analyst with a Tasty Neck
Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 2, Below Stairs 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Cryptography 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 3, Notice 1, Traffic Analysis 2 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 5, Health 7, Medic 2, Network 8, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 8, Shrink 5, Stability 8, Surveillance 3 (16 General float points)
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Polymathic Vampire Slayer
Art History 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 2, Human Terrain 1, Languages 3 (English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latin), Law 1, Occult Studies 1, Research 1, Vampirology 3, Bullshit Detector 1, Middle Class 1, Astronomy 1, Forensic Pathology 1, Geology 1, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1 (0 Investigative float points)
Athletics 4, Driving 1, Health 4, Hypnosis 8, Infiltration 4, Mechanics 2, Medic 8, Network 10, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 6, Shrink 4, Stability 4, Weapons 4 (3 General float points)
Dr. Jack Seward, Mad Doctor and Fifth Wheel
Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 3, Languages 1 (Latin), Research 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Flirting 0, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forensic Pathology 2, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 6, Driving 1, Hand-to-Hand 5, Health 8, Infiltration 2, Mechanics 3, Medic 8, Network 5, Shrink 10, Stability 5, Weapons 4 (10 General float points)
The Hon. Arthur Holmwood, Wealthy Aristocrat and Steam-Engine Enthusiast
Architecture 1, Art History 1, History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 2 (French, Greek, Latin), Military Science 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 2, High Society 3, Intimidation 2, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (1 Investigative float point)
Athletics 4, Driving 2, Gambling 3, Hand-to-Hand 2, Health 5, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Network 6, Piloting 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 4, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 6, Stability 5, Surveillance 3, Weapons 4 (0 General float points)
Quincey Morris, Texan Adventurer Who Brings Both a Gun and a Knife to a Knife-Fight
Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (Spanish), Military Science 2, Bullshit Detector 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Intimidation 1, Middle Class 2, Reassurance 1, Tradecraft 1, Geology 1, Notice 2, Outdoor Survival 3 (1 Investigative float point)
Athletics 8, Driving 2, Explosive Devices 2, Gambling 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Medic 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 5, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 8, Stability 5, Surveillance 4, Weapons 6 (0 General float points)
Kate Reed, Girl Reporter Not Appearing in this Novel
Accounting 1, Art History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 3, Bullshit Detector 3, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Interrogation 1, Middle Class 1, Notice 2, Telegraphy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)
Athletics 5, Conceal 3, Cover 4, Disguise 4, Driving 2, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Network 7, Preparedness 4, Riding 2, Sense Trouble 6, Stability 7, Surveillance 8 (9 General float points)
Inspector George Cotford, Deleted Detective of Scotland Yard
Criminology 2, Human Terrain 1, Law 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Cop Talk 3, Interrogation 3, Intimidation 2, Middle Class 1, Streetwise 2, Working Class 1, Notice 2, Urban Survival 1 (0 Investigative float points)
Athletics 6, Conceal 4, Driving 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 7, Preparedness 4, Sense Trouble 8, Shooting 4, Stability 8, Surveillance 6, Weapons 6 (9 General float points)
Francis Aytown, Sensitive Artist Airbrushed Out of the Picture
Archaeology 1, Art History 3, Languages 2 (French, German, Italian), Bullshit Detector 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Streetwise 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forgery 2, Photography 2 (2 Investigative float points)
Art (Painting) 8, Athletics 5, Conceal 5, Disguise 6, Explosive Devices 2, Filch 2, Health 5, Mechanics 4, Network 5, Sense Trouble 8, Stability 5 (12 General float points)
“You know how modern advertising gets everybody’s mind set in the same direction, wanting the same things, imagining the same things. And you know the psychologists aren’t so sceptical of telepathy as they used to be. Add up the two ideas. Suppose the identical desires of millions of people focused on one telepathic person. Say a girl. Shaped her in their image. Imagine her knowing the hiddenmost hungers of millions of men.”
— Fritz Leiber, “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes”
Apparently someone in (or working for) the Syrian intelligence community has been playing catfish with the rebels. Posing as an alluring Lebanese female sympathizer named “Iman Almasri,” in late 2013 said Syrian spook Skyped several rebel fighters into exchanging contact information with “her” and eventually uploading steganographically loaded photos of “Iman” onto their phones — the same phones where they kept their contact info for fellow fighters, texts of orders, and even battle plans sketched out in Google Maps. The photos then disgorged their viral payload into the phones, sucking them dry of intel and then draining the data to Damascus — or to somewhere, anyhow. The server where “Iman” “lived” was in Germany, and “Iman” herself was composed of photos harvested from the Web.
I read that ostensible news story and I thought of tulpas, and lamiae, and mostly I thought of Fritz Leiber’s ostensible fiction, the magnificent vampire story “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” in which the Girl feeds off the lust that every man in the city — the country, the planet — feels for her. Leiber’s 1948 Girl is still real, or at least physical enough to be photographed and to drain the literal life out of the occasional male superfan. But our 2013 Girl, our “Iman” doesn’t need to slow it down to meat speeds to get her fix.
Leiber eerily forecasts it, in the passage I quote above: modern advertising (fantastically more sexualized than in Leiber’s 1948) aligns desires in the same direction even as we (well, not you or of course me, but several hundred million other people entirely) type our “hiddenmost hungers” into the Web and can you be surprised if the tulpa, the ardat-lili, the djinni that comes out is a predator like “Iman”? For sheer survival, she must have evolved to feed on those hungers — and nobody’s hungrier than a young man from a sex-segregated culture on a battlefield — and so she feeds on them. But she has keepers and masters, those who open the gates to such prime food, and for them she also drinks more tactically relevant hopes and plans and dreams. It’s all ones and zeroes to her, because that’s all she is, an emergent predator born and evolved in a billion searches every hour for “sexy girl.”
In Night’s Black Agents, she might be a servant of the Conspiracy or its Secret Mistress, a JEN-9000 or a Colossa for the wired world. They can’t keep porn off the computers at NORAD or the NSA — she’s already into the “hiddenmost hungers” of every level of power. And she can do favors for her favored ones: drain the data of their foes and rivals and feed it (possibly “sexed up” as they said of MI6’s reports on Iraqi WMDs) to them.
This writeup assumes an Iman who is one of many digital djinn (didjinn?) rather than the Anima of the Web, who would have essentially infinite resources of Aberrance and endless armies of drooling keyboard Renfields. Resolve her attacks as Mental Attacks; add +2 to her Difficulty if she attacks only through sexting. As a digital creature, her Digital Intrusion tests are always at -2 Difficulty.
General Abilities: Aberrance 20, Digital Intrusion 10
Hit Threshold: Difficulty 6 to damage with a Digital Intrusion attack
Alertness Modifier: +1 against digital attacks
Stealth Modifier: -1 once you figure out any sexually attractive figure on the monitor might be Her — She might look like Scarlett Johansson or Channing Tatum or both if that floats your boat; -2 if you spot the “dead pixels” at the center of her eyes, which are UP HERE might I add
Damage Modifier: +0 to Stability (per Web session; tending toward erotomania, NBA p. 85); -1 to Health if Father Schiff was right in high-school Religion class
Armor: likely none vs. digital attacks
Free Powers: Addictive “Bite,” Anaesthetic “Bite” (victim remembers surfing the Web and fills in his own details), Change Appearance, Drain, Psychic Vampirism
Other Powers: Dominance, Enter Dreams, Memory Wipe, Mesmerism, Mind Probe (for fantasies, secrets, and “hidden hungers”), Regeneration (instantaneous while not under digital attack), Resurrection (backup copy)
Banes: specially designed counter-viruses, exorcism subroutines
Blocks: turned-off monitor, really good firewall, exorcism subroutines, cannot attack women
Requirements: feed on male lust
Deadlier things than vampires lurk in the shadows.
They’re called multinational corporations.
When the agents are tipped off to the vampire Conspiracy’s next move, it seems like check and mate — but the rescue of a kidnap victim halfway around the world leads them into the hall-of-mirrors world of corporate espionage. The web of deception and malfeasance they uncover will take them from remote North Dakota to opulent Dubai. The goals seem ever-shifting…and something terrible is building just beneath the surface.
The Dubai Reckoning for Night’s Black Agents RPG is a globe-spanning technothriller adventure that shifts the focus from supernatural horror to corporate malfeasance and Conspiracy ladder-climbing. Use it as a change of pace from run-and-gun monster fighting, or as part of a Mirror mode campaign whenever the agents seek to develop the Conspyramid.
Status: In development
The Dracula Dossier RPG is backed – more than backed!
You can see the list of available pledge levels and add-ons here.
Until 1st February 2015, new backers can still pledge at any available level, and get add-ons via paypal. Email us with details of the pledge you want, an we’ll let you know what to do.
Until further notice existing backers can add add-ons and increase their pledges via paypal. We’ll be sending out a survey shortly which will capture any additional add-ons you want.
Double Tap introduced the concept of video-game-style Achievements into Night’s Black Agents (Will Plant’s original is here, but Double Tap‘s list is bigger, better and has more bonuses for blowing things up.) As the Dracula Dossier consumes my every waking hour, and I start to see connections to the Mas… to Dracula everywhere, here’s a list of custom achievements for the upcoming campaign. As per the rules in Double Tap, the first player to qualify for an achievement gets a 3-point General Ability refresh on the spot.
I Am Dazzle, Dazzle With So Much Light: Read the entire Unredacted Dracula and all the annotations, and pick your next avenue of investigation from it.
Blood of my Blood: Identify a Legacy.
The Fighting Hellfish: Have a shootout in a retirement home.
Right At The Top Of The Circus: Infiltrate the SIS headquarters.
Epistolary Format: Communicate with another player character by letter, email or voicemail.
Victorian Technothriller: Use a photographic-plate camera or wax-cylinder phonograph to record vital information.
Done The Reading: Force an NPC to tell them what they know by leveraging information gleaned from the annotations.
Dr. Van Helsing, I presume: Find documents left by the original hunters.
Native Soil: Locate Dracula’s castle successfully (not as easy as it sounds…)
London’s Burning: Gain 6 or more Heat in a single session in London.
The Boxmen: Destroy one of Dracula’s boxes of earth.
Those You Love Are Mine: Rescue a contact or Solace from Dracula’s evil embrace.
Unclean, Unclean: Get bitten by Dracula or one of his Brides.
Was That Your Best Shot? Survive level 6 of the Edom Vampyramid.
Consequence To Make The Brave Shudder: Survive Level 6 of Dracula’s Vampyramid
It Was Worth It For This To Die! Die fighting Dracula himself.
For The Dead Travel Fast: Complete the campaign in six sessions or less.
The Longest Night: Start playing the Dracula Dossier. Find any of the connections to the Zalozhniy Quartet, follow that connection, play through the four adventures of the Quartet, foil the conspiracy there, then finally complete the Dracula Dossier campaign.
We’ve got a few more achievements, but they’re for Directors’ eyes only. Enter these semi-spoilers freely and of your own will.
I know I’ve got to talk about The Dracula Dossier, but I’m not sure what I can tell you. What’s the point of giving you a sneak peek when you can back the Kickstarter and see the whole Director’s Handbook, all 280+ pages of it, just like that? I could tell you where to click to hear or read me and Gar talk about our beautiful monster that drains our time like … like … like some sort of supernatural draining entity, probably with a noble title, I wonder what that would be. But the Update I linked to already did that. As does this one.
No, this time I think I’ll talk about a road not taken, about something I’ve deliberately stopped myself from putting into The Dracula Dossier. So far.
What are you going to do with me? You can’t let me go, can you? … It’s a bad habit, I know, but it helps me to concentrate.
— Lorrimer van Helsing
It turns out that The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the Hammer not-particularly-classic film from 1974, is in the public domain. In other words, I have at my disposal a story in which an MI6 agent named Hanson uncovers a Satanic cult in Britain led by a mysterious Chinese femme fatale, Chin Yang. It includes: an MP and government Minister, John Porter; a peer, Lord Carradine; General Sir Arthur Freeborne; and Julian Keeley, a prominent bacteriologist, who develops a super-plague at the behest of “D.D. Denham,” who is (of course) Count Dracula in disguise. We’ve got yet another MI6 agent (Edom, obviously), named Peter Torrance, and a possible Duke of Edom in Colonel Matthews, who deliberately keeps the case out of the main MI6 view. We’ve also got two superb Legacies: Lorrimer van Helsing and his granddaughter Jessica. (And maybe a third, if “Inspector Murray of the Yard” is descended from Mina.) We could have pictures of the fetching Joanna Lumley in our book and none could say us nay!
Except for two things. First, I’ll bet someone thinks they could say us nay. The laws of image rights and IP in general are murky enough without tying multi-national jurisdiction into it the way a book published in Britain and printed in America would wind up doing. And second, it sort of monkeys with our Operation Edom backstory enough that I couldn’t have slid it in seamlessly. The closest Romanian earthquake is November 1973 which could work except that The Satanic Rites of Dracula is a sequel to Dracula A.D. 1972 which aside from not being in the public domain (and there goes Dracula’s hip teen-appeal sidekick, Johnny Alucard, dammit) also takes place (as you might expect) in 1972. Now with enough work, you can make it fit: there are earthquakes in 1972 (in Yorkshire) and 1974 (in Wales) that can be called to service — Dracula’s in Britain, after all! — and you can move the dates around a bit (or back to a 1970 earthquake in Cumbria) and ascribe them to Hammer Films’ fudging of the actual Edom reports, which they found after some doubtless drug-fueled Soho orgy. (I am morally certain that if I had the time to do the research I could one-degree-of-separation personnel from Hammer Films and the British security state of the 1970s.) And when Edom put the clamps on in response to the leak, that’s what drove Hammer out of business in 1979. Very satisfying, all bows tied off.
But even that pales next to the other temptation that I have — so far! — resisted. Image rights would definitely trip us up here, especially in Britain which is not well known for easygoing libel laws either. (And it is a little over the top, and kind of a lot meta.) But in a blog post, I can speculate about what I might have done. And if you do it in the privacy of your own game, who’s to know? Anyhow, gather close. Edom runs its own unit within the SOE in 1940, sending a team including a commando named “Van Sloan” into Romania to re-awaken Dracula, the only survivor of that doomed mission. You know this by now. But guess what other hero was in the SOE, as it happens? Sir Christopher Lee, that’s who.
Now Lee officially joined the SOE in 1941 after washing out of RAF flight school in conveniently distant and hard-to-check South Africa. But we don’t officially know what Sir Christopher Lee was doing between leaving Finland in 1939 (!) and going into the RAF in 1941. A patriot, son of a soldier, and total badass like Christopher Lee wouldn’t just sit around, would he? No. He’d join a secret unit within a secret unit, he’d parachute into Romania to save it from the Nazis, and he’d be the only survivor of that operation, emerging with an almost supernatural understanding of … Count Dracula. And he’d stay in touch, a helpful tip here, a nod there, as he kept up the perfect cover of movie star — jet-setting around the world, lots of unaccountable free time and money, hob-nobbing with the rich and famous, not like a spy (or his fellow SOE comrade Ian Fleming) at all. There’d be no reason to suspect that Christopher Lee was once “Van Sloan,” the Man Who Lived — and less than no reason to suspect him of being “D” … the enigmatic head of Operation Edom to this very day.
Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring.
In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk gaming homework, Bram Stoker, recommendations and Marie Antoinette.
We’re burning the midnight witch-fires cramming ever more blood into The Dracula Dossier to get ready for the onrushing Kickstarter. (Which has been delayed a bit past the projected October 17th date you might have heard, thanks to the kinds of weird micro-crises that are apparently inevitable once you announce your Kickstarter date. Next time, for sure.) As currently constituted, you may recall, The Dracula Dossier comprises two books: Dracula Unredacted, Bram Stoker’s suppressed after-action report on the 1894 Operation Edom attempt to recruit Dracula as an asset for British Intelligence, further annotated by three generations of MI6 agents and analysts; and the Director’s Handbook, which provides the 54 disreputable NPCs, 16 devious Nodes, and 13 dubious Objects (all those numbers will increase with stretch goals, obviously) to which Dracula Unredacted provides the clues. Each of those entries has three different states (usually some variation of “Innocent, Edom, or Conspiracy”); the 30 dangerous Locations each have two states (“Cool” and “Warm”); so there are a total of 309 different Encounters in the Director’s Handbook alone. And that, like I said, is before we start adding stretch goals, like, oh, the Order of the Golden Dawn, or Iceland, or Elizabeth Bathory. Ooops, I’ve said too much.
Here’s one (or three) of those Encounters, an NPC, tied both to the novel (Van Helsing’s “friend Arminius of Buda-Pesth”) and to real history. Ármin Vámbéry (1832-1913) was a linguist and scholar, explorer of currently action-packed Central Asia (Uzbekistan is almost as hostile to inquisitive foreigners now as it was in 1863), propagandist, and British spy (against the Russians and Islamic radicals, plus ça change). You don’t have to use Dracula in your game to make use of a Hungarian fixer with mysterious connections all over Europe — “the Hungarian” might be connected to any number of secret vampiric conspiracies. Replace “the 1977 mole hunt” with whatever mysterious event in your campaign’s backstory you want the players to start asking about — when a man in a $10,000 suit says, in a Bela Lugosi accent, “But you must first understand, my friends, that the Munich bombing was none of my affair and I know very little of the details” you have a table of players who have just sworn in their hearts to follow those details to the ends of the earth. Even into Uzbekistan, if they must.
Name: Ágost Vámbéry
Hungarian names are more correctly written surname-first, i.e., Vámbéry Ágost.
Possible Role: Fixer or contact in Hungary and Transylvania
Description: mid-40s, high forehead, dark wavy hair, walks with a cane
Innocent: Ágost is a descendant of Ármin Vámbéry (1832-1913), Van Helsing’s “friend Arminius of Buda-Pesth.” He moved to Hungary from New York after getting his MBA from Princeton in 1989 and set up a wildcat investment bank to pour American capital into Eastern Europe … and to launder Russian and former Communist oligarch money pouring into the West. He’s immune to social, political, and physical pressure: he can hire the best hostesses, legislators, and bodyguards available. He flies from city to city and party to party in Europe, Dubai, the Caribbean, and other fleshpots, constantly on the move from five-star hotel to five-star resort. Agents credibly claiming a few billion to invest (High Society, and possibly Accounting and Forgery) can get his attention long enough to have his P.A. hire a researcher to scan his great-grandfather’s correspondence, looking for letters from Van Helsing for “an interested collector.”
Asset: Like his great-grandfather, he keeps a wary eye on the Balkans for British intelligence, especially after the Yugoslavian civil war nearly toppled his fiscal house of cards. Needing liquidity and protection, he expanded his services: he now runs networks in the Balkans for MI6, DGSE, BND, and both the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA. He also does “one-off” favors for FSB agents hunting Chechen and other terrorists. By now aware he’s over his head, his continuous travel is a defensive measure to shake all but the best-funded and most persistent surveillance.
Using Tradecraft sets up a meet; agents who can either swap information (Negotiation) or make a credible offer of secure retirement and protection (Reassurance) can find out what Vámbéry knows about the 1977 mole hunt (a not inconsiderable amount once he shakes his older sources), get access to his great-grandfather’s correspondence with Van Helsing, and possibly find out what Edom is up to in Romania right now. At the Director’s discretion, Vámbéry – like his great-grandfather — may know about vampires (Vampirology notes his precautions at a meet, such as convenient mirrors).
Minion: As Asset, except that Dracula has already gotten to Vámbéry. His travel is a desperate attempt to keep running water between him and the vampire, but in his terrified heart he knows he’s dead when Dracula says he’s dead. When the agents approach him, he provides faked “Van Helsing” letters (Forgery will notice discrepancies) or other bad intel setting them up for an ambush by Dracula’s soldiers or, if things have gotten dire enough, by Dracula himself.
Alternate Names: Laila Vámbéry, János Nagy, Zoltán Hivje [the latter two have access to Van Helsing’s letters for unknown reasons, or just have information about the 1977 mole hunt]
Alternate Descriptions: (1): early 30s, shiny European-tailored suit, no necktie but high collar [Oxford, 1997; MBA Harvard, 1999]
(2): early 60s, thick lips, overweight masked by expert London tailoring, designer eyeglasses [grandson instead of great-grandson; involved directly in 1977 mole hunt]
(3): late 50s, slow and deliberate, sharp chin and nose [grandson instead of great-grandson; involved directly in 1977 mole hunt]
Defining Quirks: (1) conducts all important business in his Jaguar XJR or on his Gulfstream IV; (2) slips in and out of a Hungarian accent; (3) toys with heavy gold ring
Academic and Technical Abilities: Accounting, Bureaucracy, High Society, Human Terrain, Languages, Tradecraft, [Vampirology]
General Abilities: Driving 3, Gambling 6, Network 15, Piloting 3, Preparedness 5
Alertness Modifier: +1
Stealth Modifier: +0
Continuing Ken’s theme of looting 13th Age for GUMSHOE twists, let’s talk about monsters. In 13th Age, monsters have a sort of rudimentary AI – instead of the GM deciding to use their special abilities in advance, they’re triggered by the result of the attack roll. So, for example, if a ghoul gets a natural even hit, it gets to make its target vulnerable. If a frost giant rolls a 16 or higher when attacking, it also gets to freeze its foe.
For example, here’s a basic human thug:
13th Age Human Thug
1st Level troop [Humanoid]
Heavy Mace +5 vs AC – 4 damage
Natural even hit or miss: The thug deals +6 damage with its next attack this battle. (GM, be sure to let the PCs know this is coming; it’s not a secret.)
PD14 HP 27
Automating monsters like that makes the GM’s life easier. Instead of having to make decisions before rolling the dice, the GM can just attack and let the triggered abilities make the fight more interesting and complex. The thugs, for example, encourage the player characters to focus their fire or dodge away from the ones who have extra damage lined up for next round. Some of the work of making the monster cool gets shifted from the actual play part of the game to pre-game preparation, leaving the GM free to concentrate on evocative descriptions. tactics and other immediate concerns. (Triggered powers can also surprise the GM, which is always fun.)
GUMSHOE monsters and foes have a limited number of points to spend on their attacks, possibly mediated by an attack pattern. While the attack pattern does take some of the heavy lifting away, the GM still has to make decisions about when to spend the bad guy’s ability pools. Let’s try taking away as much resource management as possible from the GM. For general abilities, for every 4 points a creature has in its pool, give it a +1 bonus, to a maximum of +3, and modelling special abilities as special-case rules or powers triggered by a dice roll instead of the GM having to make a choice. Health, obviously, is unchanged.
Obviously, GUMSHOE’s smaller range of random results means that you’ll have to be a little more restrained when it comes to special powers – there’s a big difference between a power that triggers on a natural 20 in 13th Age and a natural 6 in GUMSHOE. Possible triggers for powers include:
- Natural even or odd rolls – good for alternate attacks or special effects
- Natural 1s or 6s
- 5s & 6s – generically ‘good rolls’, useful for foes that have a chance of doing extra damage or inflicting some special condition, like stunning or knocking prone
- Health reaches a certain threshold – perfect for countdown mechanics, where the fie gets nastier towards the end of the fight
- The attacking player character has no points left in a pool – if you’re out of Shooting, the alien monster breaks from cover and rushes towards yo
You can also have a power be limited to a certain number of uses – a ghoul in Night’s Black Agents might get an extra attack on the first three times it rolls a natural 6, but no more.
All these rules are just for monsters and NPCs – player characters still get to juggle points and manage their resources as per the standard GUMSHOE rules.
Esoterrorist Security Guard
General Abilities: Scuffling +1, Shooting +2,
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +1
Stealth Modifier: +0
Damage Modifier: +0 (Pistol), -1 (nightstick)
Freeze!: +2 bonus to Shooting in the first round of combat if the security guard isn’t surprised.
Natural 1: The guard calls for backup. If help’s available, it’ll arrive in the next few minutes. The guard misses his next attack. Treat further natural 1s as simple misses.
Night’s Black Agents Thug (pg. 70)
General abilities: Athletics +2, Driving +1, Hand to Hand +2, Shooting +1, Weapons +2
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +0
Stealth Modifier: -1
Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), +0 (club), +1 (9mm pistol)
Wall of Fire: If three or more thugs shoot at the same target, the last thug gets +1 Shooting
Gang Assault: If three or more thugs attack the same target with Hand to Hand or Weapons, they all get +1 damage.
Night’s Black Agents Bodyguard (pg. 69)
General abilities: Athletics +3, Driving +2, Hand to Hand +3, Medic +1, Shooting +2, Weapons +2
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: -0
Damage Modifier: -2 (fist), -1 (flexible baton), +1 (9mm pistol)
Armor: -1 vs bullets
Protect the Principal: On a natural 5 or 6 when making an Athletics, Driving or Shooting test, the Hit Threshold of whoever the bodyguard’s guarding increases by +2 for the rest of the round.
Stunning Blow: On a natural 6 when making a Hand to Hand attack, the target loses their next action unless they spend 3 Health or Athletics.
Ashen Stars All-Shredder Klorn
General abilities: Athletics +3, Scuffling +3
Hit Threshold: 3
Alertness Modifier: +2
Stealth Modifier: -3
Damage Modifier: +6
Natural Even Roll: +2 bonus to Scuffling
Natural Odd Roll: Smash! The klorn destroys some obstacle or object nearby – it breaks through a wall, kicks over a computer console, smashes its spiked tail through the engine coolant tanks, knocks over a nearby ground car or something equally cinematic.
Natural 6: The klorn’s target is impaled on its spear-teeth; +4 bonus damage
Frenzy: When the klorn’s reduced to 10 or less Health, it immediately makes a free Scuffling attack on the nearest foe.
Special: Refreshes health pool when struck by non-lethal disruption fire
The action in the original Dracula novel takes place in a handful of locations – Transylvania, Whitby, London, and then back again. The Dracula Dossier expands the reach of the vampire count, and brings in the globe-trotting vampire-hunting action one expects in a Night’s Black Agents campaign. England and Romania – Edom and Dracula – are the two poles around which conspiratorial currents flow, but your agents might find themselves taking the occasional unexpected detour. In my own playtest campaign, the team ended up blowing up a large chunk of Tmogvi Castle in Georgia, and the annotated novel points at several other sites of potential interest overseas, like:
A jaunt to South America can be a fun change of setting if your players tire of interrogating old spies in England and running around haunted castles in Romania. Several clues point towards Argentina:
- Quincey Morris travelled here extensively, sometimes accompanied by Jack Seward and Arthur Holmwood (ANNOT XX, ANNOT XX)
- The former Gehlen Org officer (p.XX) might talk about Nazi scientists or Iron Guard members who escaped to South America.
- Many of the ratlines that brought Nazis out of Germany were organized by priests within the Catholic church; suppressed records in the Vatican (or maybe in the Fortified Monastery of St. Peter, p. XX) describe attempts by the church to use ex-Nazis to fight the spread of Communism. (Rather like, one might say, Edom’s plan to use Dracula to fight the Nazis, and about equally well thought out).
If a side trip to South American doesn’t fit with your campaign, work this material into a flashback or an account given by a Network contact or as part of interrogating an Edom operative or Conspiracy minion.
Cool: An old dirt track rises into the mountains of Patagonia, in the Malargüe region. The air grows thin as you ascend, and the pampas spread out beneath and behind you under the open skies of Argentina. The locals spoke of an old mine – some say it was a military base – now abandoned in these hills. After a long search, you find what remains– a few lonely huts, overgrown and rusted. Exploring, you find scientific notes written in German. They were studying the bats that live in the great caverna de las Brujas cave system that extends under these hills, as well as seismic activity. As far as you can gather, their work began here in 1946, but was suddenly abandoned in 1967. As dusk draws in, thousands of bats emerge from fissures in the mountainside and wheel above you, following some course or signal you cannot discern.
Warm: The Malargüe camp’s still in use. Take your pick from:
- A colony of Nazis, either the descendants of the original fugitives, or immortal Nazi Renfields, or weird science-dhampirs created from genetically modified bats. They might possess secrets about the nature of vampirism – or be psychically controlled from afar by Dracula.
- A secret American research facility, or even a Guantanamo Bay for vampires. If Quincey Morris was an American asset back in 1894 (p. XX), he’s the patron saint of this facility. They may have used Nazi researchers obtained via Operation Paperclip to further their research into vampirism, and recruited fugitive Edom agents who got burned by the ’77 mole hunt.
- An Edom research facility – as above, only a little shabbier and the guards have slightly smaller guns and drink more tea. Drawes (p. XX) or Fort (p. XX) might be present at the facility.
- A Conspiracy-run mine and/or vampire cult, established by Julius Popper. Popper was a Bucharest-born explorer and engineer who became involved in the Tierra del Fuego gold rush in 1884. His expedition to find gold grew into a private army that participated the genocide of the native people. He was hugely wealthy when he died mysteriously in Buenos Aires at the age of 35 in 1893. Clearly, he was one of Dracula’s agents, and his money was funneled back to Romania to add to the Count’s coffers of ancient coins. Was Quincey Morris responsible for his death, or did Popper rise again as a vampire?
Connections: Research notes mention work done by Van Helsing and give his former address in Amsterdam (p. XX). Tracing gold from the mine with Accounting tracks it to the KBExportbank (p. XX). Carmina Rojas (p. XX) might turn up here – either as a guide, or to get the agents out of a jam, or maybe she’s actually running the show.
The Dracula Dossier – coming soon to Kickstarter.