In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk Richard Sorge, NPCs as foils, Charles Richet and surrealism 101.
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.
The war takes a profound toll on Salvador Dalí, whose rightward political shift can be traced to the leftist capture of his hometown, Cadaqués. Revolutionaries destroy his home and that of his father, execute thirty of his neighbors, and, it seems, rape his sister. Given the power he amasses in the Dreamlands, might he be able to send surreal dreamforms to the real Spain to exact revenge? Your Pen and Ink characters might find themselves battling stilt-legged tigers or chest-of-drawer minotaurs.
Picasso, radicalized by the war, might to do something similar to fight for the Republican cause. His minotaurs are bigger and scarier, and you don’t want to mess with his harpies.
Surrealist painter André Masson is personally present for the siege of Barcelona and experiences a metaphysical epiphany on the mountain of Montserrat a year later. With a bit of date-squishing you could play him in a Pen and Ink campaign and then carry him over to Dreamhounds, or vice versa.
For a literal portal from one series to the next, maybe the PCs get thrown into the torture chambers described here. According to Franco-era prosecution reports discovered by a historian in 2003, an anarchist named Alphonse Laurencic constructed prison cells meant to subject prisoners to “psychotechnic” torture inspired by modernist artists. Their punishing angles and off-putting visuals supposedly broke down the wills of those held there. As did, it is alleged, screenings of Salvador Dalí and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou.
Now, as something that actually happened, I have my doubts. Claims made by fascist prosecutors have to be taken skeptically. Maybe some form of psychotechnic prison existed. However, prints of the rarely screened Un Chien Andalou would have been extraordinarily hard to get ahold of anywhere at this time, let alone during the chaos of the civil war.
Still, let’s not allow likelihood to get in the way of a good horror story. Player characters placed in Laurencic’s cells, no doubt due to the constant inter-factional struggle on the Republican side, might not only resist their mind-bending properties. The strange geometric forms painted on the walls might shatter the resistance of their fellow prisoners. But characters already exposed to the much worse resonance of the Mythos could leverage them to their own psychic ends. They might find themselves conveyed to the Dreamlands to meet the dream forms of Dalí or Buñuel. From there a little narrative hocus-pocus might lead to one or more of the PCs joining a Dreamhounds campaign, escaping from Spain to Paris.
In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk Dreamhounds of Paris, herbs, Shakespearean gaming, and Northern Ireland black mass psy-ops.
Dreamhounds of Paris brings sandbox play to Trail of Cthulhu, as the surrealists of the 20s and 30s discover their ability to consciously reshape the realm beyond waking.
I play with a group that works best either in the completely dramatic realm of Hillfolk and DramaSystem, or in a procedural game with a strongly laid-out goal, like GUMSHOE in its default format. Their struggles with Dreamhounds proved instructive and helped me to improve the book’s GM section.
That’s not to say that they didn’t have any fun, or that nothing happened in their series. Its most memorable events include:
- A murder in Man Ray’s apartment building, with him the apparent target.
- Chasing the pulp anti-hero Fantômas through the marbled halls of Thran, while being accused of complicity in his murders and thefts.
- Dalí raising dreamscaping havoc in a Serranian tavern, striking terror into the hearts of its reticent citizens.
- The blossoming of a Dreamlands cult propitiating the dread god Buñuel.
- Giorgio de Chirico confronting his guilt for starting all of this in the first place.
- Going to the top of mount Hatheg-Kla to find the ancient gods of man, having hatched a plan with the poet Louis Aragon to extirpate them.
- Journeying to the shores of Lake Hali to open the coffin of the King in Yellow, only to find Magritte inside.
- Meeting Picasso in a Dreamlands grove, musky with corrupt fecundity. They found him and a minotaur engaged in leisurely congress with voluptuous plant women. The player characters declined Picasso’s offer to join in.
- A picnic with Nyarlathotep, who gave René Magritte a beautiful silver gun.
- A waking world raid on the chateau of a sinister Parisian occultist. There Nyarlathotep’s aforementioned beautiful silver gun took on a will of its own, massacring the servants in a spectacular fountain of gore.
- Salvador Dalí’s fateful meeting with Gala, wife of fellow surrealist Paul Éluard, at his family home in Cadaqués, Spain. His love for her cures him of his laughing fits.
- Shortly thereafter, Buñuel strangling Gala, the other pulling him off her before he kills her.
Items 11 and 12 are well-documented in the historical record. The others can be proven only by visiting the shores of dream, which still bear the scars of what the surrealists did to it ninety years ago.
In the latest episode of the ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk chasing story, Chicago film fest, opening scenes and centuries of darkness.
Ken Hite takes on Dracula!
A new edition of Stoker’s novel that tells the real story; and an improvised spy thriller campaign for Night’s Black Agents RPG.
Two Books. One Mission.
Dracula is not a novel. It’s the censored version of Bram Stoker’s after-action report of the failed British Intelligence attempt to recruit a vampire in 1894. Kenneth Hite has restored the deleted sections, inserting annotations and clues left by three generations of MI6 analysts. This is Dracula Unredacted.
Follow those clues to The Director’s Handbook, containing hundreds of encounters: shady NPCs, dangerous locations, conspiratorial nodes, and mysterious objects. Together they comprise The Dracula Dossier — an epic improvised, collaborative campaign for Night’s Black Agents, our award-winning vampire spy thriller RPG.
The mission: Hunt and kill Dracula now, once and for all, before Britain falls to him forever.
The latest edition of See Page XX is out now! Featuring pre-orders for Dreamhounds of Paris and the companion book The Book of Ants; PDFs of Dulce et Decorum Est, Soldiers of Pen and Ink, and The Seventh Circle. KWAS subscribers will get the November edition, Hideous Creatures: Byakhee this month, and meanwhile, non-subscribers can now buy The School of Night as a stand-alone product in the shop. There’s also the usual round-up of articles, and more details about the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter.
In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk gaming homework, Bram Stoker, recommendations and Marie Antoinette.
New creature for The Esoterrorists
The membrane between this world and the Outer Dark is everywhere. Even inside your computer. That’s where seepers break through. They sense the particular stink of paranoia and latent aggression stoked on the Internet’s blackest shoals. When you drink in conspiracy theory or wallow in mythologies of victimhood, they wriggle from the swirling chaos into your CPU, out through your motherboard, and into your keyboard cable. Using a wireless keyboard? A seeper is fine with that; it can transmit itself along your wi-fi connection. As you spiral down the rabbit hole of electronic disinformation, as you type your screeds against the government and You Know Which Ethnic Group, the seeper works its way under your fingernails and into your bloodstream. 9/11 was an inside job!
Once it infests you, the seeper doesn’t turn you into a rampaging maniac. Instead you become a vector for madness. You take that extra step from posting and commenting on conspiracy theories and start to network in person with fellow believers. When you meet an especially unstable hanger-on in the world of fringe politics, the seeper floods your brain with endorphins. Unconsciously seeking that biochemical reward, you befriend damaged, repellent people you’d normally shun. The seeper uses you as a broadcast beacon, intensifying the fragility of its secondary target. It might even require you to do things behind your new friend’s back to worsen his life and drive him further to the edge. Maybe you “accidentally” let his boss find out about his white supremacist views. Or you tell a story on him that gets him kicked out of his responsible gun club, or pushes him away from the one family member who still keeps tabs on him.
That way, when the secondary target embarks on his kill spree and shoots himself in the heart when cornered, or takes a sniper shot to the head, the seeper remains alive and in this world. You go on television to decry the way the media is exploiting this tragedy to score cheap political points. You mourn your friend and cultivate your sense of martyrdom.
Eventually the seeper impels you to move to another city, where it draws you to its next secondary victim. It teaches you to be careful, so no one ever puts it together, IDing you as the common factor connecting two, three or even four spree killers. Meanwhile, the seeper grows psychically fat on the grief and carnage it causes, sending its energy back through the membrane to grow offspring, which wait for their own chance to stoke the spree-kill epidemic.
The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.’