“I think that Varna is not familiar to any of us …”
— Van Helsing
In my defense, not a lot of stuff happens in Varna. I mean, in the novel. Lots of stuff happens in Varna, including a disastrous Crusade in 1444 that killed the King of Poland and nearly killed Vlad Tepes’ brother Mircea.
But in the novel, Dracula ships his coffins to London via Herr Leutner of Varna, and then fakes out the hunters by booking a ship for Varna but going on to Galatz in Romania. Lord Godalming and co. arrive in Varna via the Orient Express, and stay at the Odessus Hotel, named after the original Greek settlement on the site. Although the hunters have identified another of Dracula’s agents in the city, a broker named Ristics, they leave him and Varna behind.
Which is what I did when I mapped out the Director’s Handbook for the Dracula Dossier. Although we put in Herr Leutner, we skipped Varna itself. I blame Dracula, master of the bait-and-switch-Black-Sea-ports. Here, in another of our continuing (and continuing) series “Things We Left Out of The Director’s Handbook for The Dracula Dossier,” is a Quick and Dirty look at Varna, the Summer Capital of Bulgaria.
Varna is Bulgaria’s third-largest city. Its Black Sea beaches and hot springs have made it a resort town since the 7th century BCE, and tourism keeps it one of the most prosperous cities in Eastern Europe. It sits below 350m terraces, at the mouth of Lake Varna, still a center of industry, shipbuilding, and chemical works. The 2 km long Asparuhov Bridge (a 46 m high suicide magnet) connects the rest of Varna with the Asparuhovo borough on the south side of the Lake.
365,000 (about the size of Tampa), swells to 600,000 during summer vacation season (much like Tampa).
Varna’s relative prosperity tends to mute its social conflicts; even the 2013 anti-austerity riots across Bulgaria remained peaceful protests in Varna. One major concern is Varna’s increasing population of undocumented foreigners, initially mostly Turks but recently Ukrainian refugees from the war. There are possibly as many as 300,000 such in the city (which would put the city’s size in summer at 900,000). About 1% of Varna’s population are Roma, almost entirely living in three impoverished ghettos (Maksuda, Rozova Dolina, and Chengene Kula).
A vigilante group of former Bulgarian marines, the Varna Seals, expelled foreign mafias in 2007-2009; some suggest this is merely to clear the lucrative tourist-and-waterfront ground for the Mutri, the Bulgarian mafia. Varna is a major transshipment point for traffickers in slaves and drugs, fueling a red-light district and party zone in resorts all along the Black Sea coast.
Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship: Towering 110 m above the northwestern part of the city, this 11,000-tonne brutalist concrete monstrosity resembles an immense extended wing, 11-meter high bas-reliefs of Red Army soldiers facing gigantic Bulgarian maidens across a wide 305-step staircase up the side of Turna Tepe. Abandoned since the fall of Communism, it remains a haunt of graffiti artists and urban explorers drawn by the rumors of a nuclear bunker deep within the hill.
Sea Garden: The oldest and largest landscaped park in Varna, begun in 1862 and expanded ever since. It currently hosts not just gardens, but fountains, greenhouses, a grove of trees planted by cosmonauts, the Varna Zoo, Varna Aquarium (including a dolphinarium), the Varna Naval Museum, a water park and amusement park, and casinos, promenades, nightclubs, and boardwalk attractions.
Varna Archaeological Museum: Just southeast of the city center in a Neo-Renaissance building, the Varna Archaeological Museum (est. 1888) holds exhibits from all periods of Bulgarian history: ancient Thracian weapons, Byzantine jewelry, and 19th century icons. Its pride and joy is the collection of pectorals, diadems, beads, and rings of the “Gold of Varna” excavated in 1972-1973 from the Varna Necropolis 4 km west of the city, and dated to ca. 4500 BCE.
- In March 2015, Dr. Valeri Yotov of the Varna Archaeological Museum excavated a “giant skeleton” buried under the Roman fortress wall of Odessus, dating to the late 4th or early 5th century CE. This ongoing excavation began near the St. Nikolay Church when workers rehabilitating the sewer system uncovered an ancient Greek pot (5th century BCE). The dig along the Odessus wall expanded into the Varna Hole, a pit dug in 1984 for the excavation of a department store but abandoned in 1989, and now used for parking.
- In 1992, a group of karate enthusiasts from the elite “Tihina” Division of the Bulgarian marines founded the TIM Group, beginning as a “security company” doing debt recovery for Bulgarian banks, and rapidly expanding into (according to the US State Department) smuggling, auto theft, prostitution, gambling, and narcotics. Since then, TIM has expanded into a maze of secretive holding companies controlling grain, airlines, fishing, oil refineries, and (according to many) Varna’s mayor and politics.
- At the western end of Lake Varna, the industrial city of Devnya is home to a tradition of vampire slayers recorded in 1888 by the Czech historian and diplomat Constantin Jirecek. These vampirdzhiya, or dzhadzhiya (who were dhampirs and often valkodlatsi or werewolves as well), carried icons through graveyards, sheepfolds, and other suspicious locations, waiting for the image to tremble. Then, they would either dig up the vampire (if material) and stake it with hawthorn and burn it, or (if in spirit form) seal it into a bottle which could be burned at leisure.
In Bram Stoker’s original Notes for Dracula, we find the following cryptic line:
Lawyer – (Sortes Virgilianae) conveyance of body
Stoker originally thought perhaps the “lawyer” character Peter Hawkins, mostly written out of the book, would perform the sortes Virgilianae, literally the “Virgilian lots,” to find out how his new client would work out. Both pagan Romans (who thought poets divinely inspired) and medieval and early modern Christians (who found a prophecy of Jesus in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue) considered Virgil a prophet. The sortes Virgilianae thus refers to a form of bibliomancy in which the querent randomly opens a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid (or sometimes the complete works of Virgil) to receive prophetic guidance on some venture.
- Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*
The “conveyance of body” seems like Stoker’s legalistic joke on the dual meaning of “conveyance”: both transportation and transfer of property rights. Anyhow, the phrase points us at Book VI; line 530 of the Aeneid (Dryden’s translation):
“My boat conveys no living bodies o’er”
Which pretty neatly prefigures the doomed Demeter’s voyage from Whitby, which is why I put it right back in Dracula Unredacted.
Later on in the Notes, Stoker suggests maybe Harker performs sortes Virgilianae in Dracula’s library, or discovers that Dracula has been using this medieval magic system, or perhaps Seward does it while feeling blue and neurotic. Eventually Stoker tossed the whole idea. But you don’t have to!
The Bibliomancy Option
Either in your Dracula Dossier game or in a Bookhounds of London campaign it can be creepy fun to introduce a bibliomantic element. The trick, of course, is to pre-load the prophecy. Go to one of the many searchable Aeneids on the Internet and search for the thing you want to show up in the next session.
Gutenberg has the whole poem on one page, and you can search for word fragments (searching on “blood” finds “bloody”); Bartleby has line numbers if you value such things or want to add a numbers-code feeling, but the poem pages are broken up by books so you can use only whole-word searches from the main page.
Or genuinely randomize it: Roll a d12 to select the Book and then a d2000 (d20, d100) to pick the Line (count a 20 result on the d20 as 0). In Dryden’s translation, no Book is longer than 1400 lines, so prepare to re-roll that first die a lot. If you’re more digitally minded, John Clayton’s Two random lines from Virgil does just that, but does not yet support a search.
Then, when the characters decide to sort out a sortilege, you can spring the right creepy line on them. Or, you can read the whole poem looking for naturally awesome couplets like this (Book II; lines 212-213):
“Reveal the secrets of the guilty state,
And justly punish whom I justly hate!”
And then come up with a neat scene that tag can retrospectively be seen to have predicted. Characters that bring about or otherwise invoke that prophecy can claim an Achievement-style 3-point refresh, if you’re feeling generous.
The following perhaps-magic item can appear in either sort of campaign, but it’s written up for the Dracula Dossier.
Appearance: An copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, in Latin and Dryden’s English translation, on facing pages, with numbered lines. Octavo, bound in pale yellow buckram, published by “Faelix Press, London, 1864.” It gives every appearance of heavy use; many pages are marked with pinpricks or brownish ink checks. It is autographed on the frontispiece, “From C. to ‘Mr. P.H., the onlie begetter.’”
Supposed History: This was the copy of the Aeneid used by Peter Hawkins to cast the sortes Virgilianae during the 1894 operation. Art History suggests the inscription is a literary joke, after the dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to “Mr. W.H., the onlie begetter.” The inscription implies that “P.H.” created Edom, and hints that his real initials are W.H. “C.” might be “Cyprian” Bridge, Director of Naval Intelligence, or the not yet officially on the clandestine books Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming, or someone else entirely.
Major Item: The book allows the accurate casting of sortes Virgilianae, with a proper knife (the Jeweled Dagger (p. XX) or something from the Knife Set (p. XX) perhaps). Riffling through the book and striking a page at random reveals a line or two of Virgil that provide prophetic insight or warning into (usually) the next session’s events. (This lets the Director think a little about how best to work the prophecy in.) During that session, each forewarned agent gains 1 pool point that can be assigned retroactively to either Sense Trouble or Preparedness.
Minor Item: This is indeed Hawkins’ desk copy of Virgil, but it only provides possible leads to Hawkins’ identity or that of his mysterious supervisors in the murky prehistory of British intelligence. Whether either clue points to the current “D” or anywhere else in Edom is up to the Director.
Fraudulent: It’s an authentic 1864 edition of Virgil, but has no connection to Hawkins or to Edom.
Connections: Could turn up in the library at Ring (p. XX) or the Korea Club (p. XX), in the Exeter house (p. XX), or if meant as a clue to the real “Hawkins,” on a dead GMC, with his finger pointing to lines 870-871 of Book II:
“Make haste to save the poor remaining crew,
And give this useless corpse a long adieu.”
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)
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.
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.
Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action – at least, according to the apocryphal Moscow Rules.
Our kickstarter for the Dracula Dossier was due to launch on October 17th. That target was, perhaps, overly ambitious. While we’d completed the draft of the Director’s Handbook – the mammoth compendium of conspiracies, connections, criminals and, um, carotid-craving critters – by then, it took longer than we planned to put together all the other assets.
Like the gorgeous draft layout.
Like the mock-up of the still-in-progress Dracula Unredacted novel, complete with its annotations by three generations of MI6 analysts.
The pitch videos.
The second, considerably more relaxed takes for the pitch videos. (There are reasons why writers rarely crave the spotlight!)
The draft covers for both books, by Dennis Detwiller and Jerome Hugenin.
The map of Europe, so we can track the progress of Mina Harker and Van Helsing in our little game within the kickstarter.
And, of course, all the behind-the-scenes juggling of numbers and stretch goals and pledge levels, so we can deliver the best possible books at the most affordable price while not diving the Pelgrane off a financial cliff. A well-executed kickstarter is a wondrous thing; a badly-planned or unlucky one can become a hellish millstone.
So, the 17th didn’t happen. But the 31st of October! All Hallow’s Eve, a night to conjure with! A night, no doubt when blue flames blaze above hidden graves and treasure troves in Transyvania, a night when spies skulk down alleyways in London and Bucharest, a night of terror and magic and…
… a night when the Pelgrane internet connection went mysteriously offline.
(Actually, it was the day before, but this makes for a better story).
Co-incidence, you say. A mere glitch. You may be right.
Our new official launch date for the Dracula Dossier kickstarter is
If it doesn’t launch on that day, we must discard both accident and co-incidence as possibilities, leaving only enemy action as the only explanation – and if that’s the case, then run, because we’ll already be dead and you know too much already, so HE will be on your trail too.
So pray, gentle reader, that the kickstarter launches on Monday. Tell your friends. Better yet, tell your enemies – maybe they’ll slow Dracula down when he goes hunting.
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
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.