Karloff reviewed the backer-PDF copy of the Dracula Dossier. You can find the full review here. Thanks, Karloff!
“This improvisational Night’s Black Agents campaign setting, complete with the unredacted print copy of Stoker’s first edition Dracula and a massive Director’s Handbook, is beyond huge. It’s one thing to write up Stoker’s Dracula with little ‘Dracula’s a great big meanie’ notes in the margins; after all, Stoker’s done the heavy lifting there. It’s something else altogether to take that text, all those marginal notes, and a hundred other things besides, turning it all into a 364-page document complete with supporting characters, locations, rival agencies, and Dracula’s many possible conspyramids and plots. I’ll give you my conclusion right up front: if you have any interest in the Night’s Black Agents setting whatsoever, this is a must-buy.”
“Meanwhile, let me offer my personal thanks, not to the authors – though they deserve every plaudit – but to my fellow Kickstarter backers. Thanks to your funding, something wonderful has been created.”
Karloff goes on,
“If you’re any kind of student of Stoker, you’ll find layer upon layer of meaning here, and each layer translates to yet another node, or character, location, item, plot thread. Imagine trying to put all that together, yourself. Then be grateful someone else did it for you.”
“Should you go to Carfax, for example, there are several different ways the Director could play it, many different items or supporting characters you might find there, and many different consequences. What this means in play is that the characters can never be sure what they’re going to discover, nor can they take anything for granted. It also means that the Director can play this several times, maybe with the same group, and it will never play out the same way twice.”
“I’d recommend a new Director buy this even if that Director never plays it as written. It’s a masterclass in how the game is constructed, and how it can be played.”
Ten years after the ghost flu hit, the world is changed — but the secret world stays the same. Enemies of your country still plot, terrorists still scheme — but now they might have superpowers. An espionage-specops frame for Mutant City Blues takes the super fights into the shadows.
Mutant City Spies is the fourth installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in July. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Mutant City Spies is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).
|Stock #: PELH31D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: Marc Steinmann, Jérôme Huguenin
|Pages: 14pg PDF
“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.
Before we plunge into the endless deluge of “Dracula Dossier bits we couldn’t fit in anywhere else”, let us pause on the brink and consider the utility of pyramids. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Night’s Black Agents offers two pyramid diagrams to help the Gamemaster. The Conspyramid is the organizational chart of bad guys that the player characters beat up until they drop clues to the next level; the Vampyramid lists threat-appropriate responses by the bad guys. (They’re both in this handy bundle of resources).
By default, the two Pyramids are only loosely linked. You might have, say, the ever-popular Russian Mafia gang as a Conspyramid node, and have Probing Attack by hired goon as an option on the Vampyramid, but the two aren’t necessarily associated. After all, it’s an international conspiracy and Night’s Black Agents is usually a jet-setting game. The Russian Mafia might be the go-to hired goons in Eastern Europe, but if the player characters fly off to Tokyo, you might want to probe them with some Yakuza instead.
Now, what if you’re running a campaign that doesn’t involve international travel?
What if it’s all in one city, battling hipster locovore vampires?
What if you’re playing Mutant City Blues instead, and the campaign involves the slow, methodical takedown of a big criminal outfit, ala the Wire?
(What if, hypothetically, you’d just binge-watched Daredevil on Netflix?)
In this setup, each node in the Conspyramid has a corresponding response in the Vampyramid. So, the Skinsky gang node in the Conspyramid lines up with the Probing Attack response. CPC Properties Offers a Payoff. The Conspiracy’s pet journalist in the City Newspaper is the one who plants the Frame Agent story, and so forth.
You don’t have to stick to the default Vampyramid responses either – think about interesting things your Conspyramid nodes could do to strike back at the player characters. For example, bad guys in the City Hospital could abduct injured or sick contacts or Solaces of the player characters; the Thing in the Morgue might Dig Up Dirt, resurrecting problems from the backstories of the PCs.
Tying Vampyramid responses to Conspyramid nodes means that responses aren’t necessarily one-shots. In a regular NBA game, if a Probing Attack fails, the Conspiracy automatically escalates to the next level or response (Hard Feint). In this setup, the Conspiracy can keep trying Probing Attacks as long as the Skinsky Gang are available. Similarly, the player characters can head off potential threats through decisive action. If they take down Welldone Holdings, then the Conspiracy can’t Freeze Their Accounts.
Keeping the action to a single city makes for a claustrophobic, intimately bloody chess match between player characters and Conspiracy bosses. Contacts and Solace are much more in the line of fire in this style of play, so Vampyramid actions that target them can be more common than in regular NBA globe-trotting play.
(And yes, The Dracula Dossier offers two new Vampyramids, one for the comparatively genteel Edom conspiracy, and the other for medieval warlord carnage, Dracula-style, but I swore that I’d hold off on the Dossier tie-in articles for another month…)
Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in the Pelgrane Shop.
Check out Nook Harper’s alternate Night’s Black Agents setting over on the Illuminerdy. Thanks, Nook!
“Cu è surdu, orbu e taci, campa cent’anni ‘mpaci”
“He who is deaf, blind, and silent will live a hundred years in peace”
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.”
“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
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.
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.