nba cover

Night’s Black Agents won two silver ENnie awards for Best Game and Best Writing, 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.

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.

 
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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.

Or worse.

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

Free downloads and resources for Night’s Black Agents

Listen to Ken Hite talk about Night’s Black Agents on the Fear the Boot podcast

 

 

Review Highlights

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

 

Cthulhu City, our new Trail of Cthulhu setting about a monstrous, mythos-haunted city adapts the Night’s Black Agents Heat mechanics to model Suspicion. Think of Suspicion as a slow simmer compared to Heat’s flash-fry. Rising Heat means police SWAT teams chasing you through the streets and airports shutting down; rising Suspicion implies police detectives knocking at your door in the middle of the night, or mysterious figures sabotaging your car to stop you leaving.

If your Night’s Black Agents game involves the characters spending extended time behind enemy lines, you may want to use these Suspicion mechanics in stead of Heat. Maybe they’re in a vampire-controlled city in Eastern Europe or maybe you’re running a historical Edom scenario with the Agents operating being the Iron Curtain, or a post-apocalyptic fantasy where greedy, sociopathic, inhuman monsters rule the world.

(Hat tip to “Nooch” over on rpg.net for requesting this adaptation.)

Suspicion

While in occupied territory, investigations into strange events and other vampire hunting activity may draw unwanted attention. This  is measured in Suspicion. The entire group of Agents has one Suspicion score in common; they are each other’s known associates. The group’s Suspicion begins at 0.

The groups’ Suspicion only rises once per game session; use the highest Suspicion gain incurred in the session.

Gaining Suspicion

Criminal acts, especially assault or murder, are the most common route to increased Suspicion, but showing undue knowledge of the supernatural or the Conspiracy also draws unwanted attention. Anything that raises Heat boosts Suspicion, but so do actions like:

  • purchasing large amounts of garlic or UV lamps
  • acquiring occult books
  • associating with other suspects
  • trespassing in vampire-controlled areas
  • possession of a foreign passport or legal-but-suspicious equipment like bugging devices
  • forbidden web searches
  • travelling by night
  • having no visible source of financial support

Averting Suspicion

Precautions: The agents can avoid increases in their Suspicion by ensuring that the city authorities do not connect the suspicious events with the hunters. Such precautions usually require spends from abilities. For example:

  • Make extra spends of Bargain, Intimidation or Reassurance to convince witnesses not to mention the agents’ presence to the authorities
  • Spend Cop Talk to convince police to look the other way
  • Spend Evidence Collection or Forensics to wipe away fingerprints and sanitise a crime scene
  • Hide incriminating notes with Cryptography
  • Make untraceable home-made explosives with Chemistry instead of purchasing them on the black market
  • Use Disguise or Infiltration to avoid unfriendly eyes

Averted Suspicion can come back to burn the agents if circumstances warrant. If a witness comes forward later, or new evidence comes to light, or the investigators’ deceptions are penetrated, the Agents can gain Suspicion for older actions. Old Suspicion gains are automatically reduced by 1 point, representing the authorities’ lack of urgency in prosecuting old offences.

Losing Suspicion

There are three ways to lose Suspicion.

  • Wait It Out: Low levels of Suspicion diminish over time. If the agents’ Suspicion score is 2 or less, then reduce it by one point after a game session in which they avoid adding to their Suspicion. Suspicion scores of 3 or more do not diminish over time.
  • Buy It Off: A good Credit Rating and friends in high places can avert the attention of the authorities. The agents may reduce their Suspicion by one if, as a group, they spend Cop Talk, Reassurance, High Society or Tradecraft points equal to the number of agents multiplied by their current Suspicion score. For example, if four agents have a Suspicion score of 3, then they could reduce that score to 2 by spending 12 points from the listed Investigative Abilities.

These points don’t have to be spent all at once; the agents can put a few points aside after every game session until they have enough to buy down their Suspicion. However, if the agents gain any more Suspicion, then points allocated but unspent are lost.

  • Make A Deal: Various powerful patrons can intercede on the investigators’ behalf to shield them from the authorities.

Effects of Suspicion

Increased Scrutiny: As Suspicion rises, so does scrutiny of the Agents. At low levels of Suspicion, that’s largely cosmetic – mysterious figures watching them from across the street, threatening letters shoved through their door. It escalates through surveillance (phone tapping, bugs, intercepted emails, mysterious figures following them) and harassment (associates and contacts get arrested and questioned) until the agents themselves get arrested and questioned on suspicion of being vampire hunters.

Increased Watchfulness: Generally increased security – more guards, more alarms, more supernatural guardians.

Blowback: Rising Suspicion may also draw blowback from whatever Vampyramid you’re using.

Cover Identities

Suspicion acquired by different Covers is tracked separately; however, if a Cover is blown, then double the Suspicion attached to that cover and add it to the agents’ total.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

No backup.

No allies.

You’re all alone in the darkness. Just you… and them.

Night’s Black Agents: SOLO

ALONE AGAINST THE UN-DEAD

Written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan (The Dracula Dossier, The Zalozhniy Quartet) Night’s Black Agents: SOLO is a stand-alone RPG which applies the GUMSHOE One-2-One rules to the award-winning Night’s Black Agents setting of spies vs. vampires.

One GM, one player – an explosive mix for a high-octane combat, or a cold-blooded chess game between a lone hero and the forces of darkness. Together, you plunge into an occult thriller that pits the gadgets and skills of a clandestine operative against the ancient horror of the vampires.

  • Can’t find an entire game group who can play when you can?
  • Want an intense head-to-head gaming experience?
  • Looking for a game to play online which fits superbly with virtual tabletops?

NBA: SOLO adds stunts, Mastery Edges, Shadow Problems and more to the One-2-One system.

Create your own Agent, or play as Leyla Khan – ex-MI6, ex-thrall of the vampires, now committed to hunting down and destroying her former masters before they recapture her. Sift through the ashes of Khan’s former life to find the clues you need to map the vampire conspiracy, then hunt down and slay the Undead.

Three explosive operations:

  • NEVER SAY DEAD
  • NO GRAVE FOR TRAITORS
  • CURRENTLY UNNAMED BUT IT’S GOING TO BE SOMETHING COOL

Status: In development

I’m working on the (somewhat delayed) first draft of Night’s Black Agents One2One, provisionally titled SOLO. These vampires nearly featured as the villains, but for various reasons, they got cut. Here’s the salvaged text, plus their standard NBA stats.

The Conspiracy

They are the Sinful Elect, damned to immortality through sin. Each of them committed some terrible transgression in life, and were transformed into vampires as reward or punishment. Their numbers are limited; there are only a hundred or so of them at any time, and while they can create lesser vampires by feeding their blood to mortals, they cannot create more creatures like them. Until one of the immortal Elect perishes by violence, another cannot be created.

So, a hundred immortals; a hundred damned monsters, a hundred unchanging faces in the flowing tide of mortality. They band together for protection against mortals, and for company against the loneliness of immortality. Each vampire has its own domain, its own networks of servants and agents; there is no overarching conspiracy, just a network of largely independent cells. At times, the vampires even war with one another, but that risks exposure to the mortal world, and so they have fallen into an uneasy peace.

Hunger and the desire to escape damnation unite them all. These vampires must feed on blood to survive, and to prolong their unnatural lives. And as every one of them has transgressed in some way, they all have reason to fear damnation.

Type

The Sinful Elect think of themselves as Damned vampires, but really they’re closer to Supernatural or Alien monsters.

There is something out there, beyond our reality. Think of them as demons if you wish, or higher-dimensional aliens. Their dimension intersects obliquely with ours. They can only sense humanity as an undifferentiated psychic mass, a nigh-uniform spiritual sea. The demons extend – they are outside time as we know it, so the present tense is the only one that can apply to them – tendrils towards us, searching for purchase. They can only catch hold and take root when they find some soul that is different enough from the rest to stand out.

That is why, historically, vampires are associated with monstrous tyrants and mass murderers. Killing lots of people is enough to put a spiritual mark on one’s soul, a psychic abscess that the demons can detect and colonise. Other forms of transgression – or, more accurately, other ways that people might differentiate themselves from the rest of humanity – can also work. A genius artist, an iconoclast, a sailor drifting alone in the ocean, hundreds of miles from another living soul might equally draw the attention of these demons.  You don’t have to be a mass-murdering monster to make inadvertent psychic contact with an alien psychic monster from another dimension, but it helps.

Only a hundred or so tendrils connect the demons to our dimension, one tendril per vampire. When a vampire is destroyed, the tendril recoils, then fumbles for another distinct mind to latch onto. Killing a vampire, therefore, condemns someone else nearby to demonic immortality. Over the course of a few days, this new anchor for the demons sickens and seems to die, as the psychic poison transforms them.

Most vampires are unaware of their demonic nature; only a few have ever discovered the truth about their condition, although more have glimpsed something of it in ecstatic visions or bloody portents.

Play the Elect as “regular” vampires for the most part – the demonic element is a plot device to break the vampire Conspiracy into bite-sized cells suitable for an episodic game.

The Demon Connection

It’s up to you how much the demonic aspect of vampires plays into your game. You can ignore it almost entirely, and play the Elect as “traditional” vampires with a religious gloss. You can use it as flavour, dropping in the occasional psychic episode or glimpse of strange, terrible creatures reaching in from another dimension. You can use it as an ironic mirroring of the clandestine worlds – just as a spy is alone in a foreign city, serving the mysterious goals of an unseen agency with many other connections and agents, so are the vampires servants of mysterious forces beyond human comprehension.

Later in the campaign, you can use the demonic connection as a way for the player to strike at the root cause of vampirism.

What Do The Demons Want? This may become a key question later in your campaign. Is there a single demon-thing out there, or several? Is the creature sentient in a way we can understand? Are vampires an accidental side effect of the demon’s fumbling psychic contact with humans, or a deliberate malign creation? Is the demon really a fallen angel, or an alien entity?

Spread

The Conspiracy is primarily a European phenomenon – whoever vampire zero was, whoever first made contact with the demons, it was someone in Eastern Europe, and the curse spreads by proximity. When one vampire dies, another is chosen from the people nearby. In recent centuries, though, the vampires have spread out across the world, and the Conspiracy is global in reach.

Numbers

There are around one hundred true vampires – 144 is believed to be the upper limit of the vampiric population, although the Conspiracy proper usually has only 80 or so active members, with the remainder either cut off from the organisation or unwilling to work with their ‘siblings’.

A vampire can create lesser progeny by feeding its blood to mortal victims. These “half-vampires” have a lesser suite of vampiric powers. Progeny decrease the power of the parent vampire – in effect, the progeny share the same supernatural connection to the extradimensional demon as their parent, splitting the creature’s unholy blessing between them. Lesser vampires can’t create progeny of their own, and they perish instantly if their ‘parent’ is killed. Progeny aren’t seen as true vampires and aren’t included in the numbers listed above. Only a few vampires bother to create offspring, and even fewer keep them around for long.

Variations & Divisions

There are several sub factions within the Elect. These factions ebb and flow depending on which vampires are in ascendancy, and the names used to refer to them change over time, but presently the following have currency. These are loose groupings, and a vampire might belong to two or more factions at a time, or drift between them.

  • The Chamber: Vampires of the Chamber manage the Conspiracy. They believe that vampires need to stay hidden from humanity to avoid hunters and extermination, and the best way to do this is to work together and exert as much control over mortal governments and institutions as possible. The Chamber has huge financial and logistical resources, but spends most of its efforts cleaning up after the excesses of other vampires instead of advancing some larger agenda. The other vampires often dismiss the Chamber as a cabal of dull bankers and bureaucrats, always fussing about trivial matters.
  • The Dominionists: These vampires claim that they have the right to do whatever they please to humans. Just as Adam was granted dominion over all the beasts of the field by God, they believe that the Elect have been given authority over all mortals. The Dominionist vampires are monsters by any measure, perpetrating all manner of atrocities. Most of their members committed mass murder in some form before becoming a vampire.
  • The Eremites: Eremite vampires while away the centuries with their own private obsessions and projects. Some Eremites prefer to keep a low profile, living out one pseudo-mortal life after another, and only dealing with other vampires when the Chamber calls on them. Others have embarked on some century-long scheme to achieve a cherished goal – to safeguard the borders of their old kingdom, to destroy some religious group they despise, or to discover some occult secret.
  • The Seers: The vampire Seers seek the truth about their condition. They are aware that some supernatural force animates and connects them, and that this force can be invoked or commanded through occult means. Unlike the lone Eremites, the Seers work together, pooling their knowledge and resources. The two main lines of inquiry for the Seers are mental disciplines to establish contact with the demons through meditation and psychic training – and alchemy, to create mind-expanding drugs that make it easier to perceive the demon world. They refer to their demonic masters/higher selves as secret kings, guardian angels or immanations.

Life & Death

A new vampire is created when an existing vampire is killed, opening up a place among the Elect – and leaving a tendril of demonic influence that isn’t latched on to a human host. This tendril attaches itself to a suitable candidate within a few hours, grabbing someone who is in some way spiritually distinct from those nearby. The demon’s otherworldly senses seem most attuned to those who believe themselves to be already damned; murder, in particular, leaves a distinct patina on the soul. However, there are no restrictions on who the demon might choose to invade, and one might equally pick a child, a saint, or an ordinary person who happened to think an unusual thought in the instant the psychic tendril brushed over their mind.

Once infested by the demon, the victim dies of apparently natural causes within a few days, and then rises from the dead as a vampire. To survive, the vampire must feed on human blood regularly. The appetite of a vampire varies from specimen to specimen, but few can go more than a month without feeding. Initially, the vampire appears human – it retains physiological traits like a heartbeat, warm skin, respiration, the ability to eat food and so on, but the passage of time strips these away. It’s the vampire’s psychic connection to the demon that sustains it, and that connection exists in the brain, so the brain is all that really needs to survive. Unless the vampire takes steps to maintain itself – drinking more blood and exercising its physical prowess – the human body withers, leaving only the monstrous brain in a grotesquely mutated shell, a leech-thing that can only suck blood and slither.

Killing a vampire requires the destruction of the brain – hence cutting off the head being the traditional method of destroying the creatures. Younger vampires perish if they cannot feed; the stake through the heart cuts off the blood supply to the brain, while placing a stone in the creature’s mouth prevents it from eating, both of which starve the brain of blood. Older vampires, though, are so ravenous for blood that it overcomes mere anatomy, and can grow new hearts or new mouths in order to indulge their thirsts.

Cure

Theoretically, it’s possible to cure a victim of vampirism by severing the psychic connection to the extra-dimensional demon before the victim dies. The only known way to do this is to present a more attractive candidate within a few hours of initial contact, before the demon has attached itself firmly to its new host. (That’s attractive according to the lights of alien demon horrors with a very warped perspective on humanity, of course; a demon might prefer the mind of serial killer to that of an ordinary bystander).

Powers

All vampires are preternaturally resilient, and hard to destroy through injury. Most also have some form of psychic ability – some can control the minds of others, or hypnotise with a glance, or become invisible by blanking the perceptions of those around them. The vampire’s powers grow with age.

Weaknesses

Only older vampires are afflicted by sunlight, although strong light does attenuate the vampire’s connection to the demon and blocks the use of some powers.

General Abilities: Aberrance 10, Hand to Hand 8, Health 10, Shooting 8, Weapons 4

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +2

Damage Modifier: +1 (bite), +0 (fist or kick) or +1 (firearm)

Armour: -1 (tough skin). Vampires who have lost their human form and degenerated into monsters are Rubbery.

Free Powers: Infravision, No Reflection, Spider Climb, Vampiric Strength, Regeneration (regains 1 Health per round, but must spend Aberrance at a one-for-one exchange range to ensure its regenerated flesh appears human-like)

Other Powers: Mental Attack (psychic blast), Magic, Vampiric Speed

Banes: Fire, Garlic, Sunlight, Silver

Blocks: Garlic, Hawthorn

Dreads: Fire

Requirements: Feed

 

A land that is thirstier than ruin
A sea that is hungrier than death
Heaped hills that a tree never grew in
Wide sands where the wave draws breath.

— Algernon Swinburne, “By the North Sea” (1880)

At some point around 1230 (perhaps during the “St. Luke’s Storm” of 1228 when the people of London saw “dragons and wykked Spyrites” in the storm wind) the action of the North Sea against the shallows on the southeast coast of Yorkshire threw up “stones and sand” to make an island probably to the east of a long sandbank at the mouth of the Humber Estuary. That sandbank is now “the Spurn” but the Vikings called it Ravenser (“raven’s tongue”) and a port of the same name appears on and off in history at the northern end of “the Neck” which connects the Spurn to the mainland such as it is of Yorkshire. Fishermen dried their nets there, then they stashed their boats there, then they traded without a lot of pesky taxation there, and by 1240 the Count of Aumale built a fortification on the island, which by that time was a “borough” named Ravenser Odd (an “odd” being Norse or Danish for a spit or point of land), or Ravenserodd, or Ravensrodd, or just Lod.

Map of the Humber mouth, 1595

In 1251, the Count obtained a charter for an official (taxed) market and fair, adding a (taxable) quay in 1297 and another in 1310. At its height, 100 ships called there per year (officially), and the town had 300 buildings, among them windmills, a tannery, a court, a prison (and gallows), and a chapel of Our Lady. Ravensrodd gained a royal charter in 1299, which came in very handy during its neighbors’ incessant lawsuits against it for piracy. In fact, another version of the town’s history says it began with a shipwreck, and was founded by the captain of that ship, one Peter-at-Sea (or Peter de la Mare), who began “convincing” other ships to land at Ravensrodd (“by fear and force”) instead of continuing on to Grimsby or Hull.

However it began, it ended just about as rapidly. The great storm of 1334 drowned “two parts” of the town and eroded the island badly; by 1351 the chapel and cemetery had drowned and looters carried off the chapel’s gold and silver ornaments. In 1360 the island was abandoned, the property owners feebly attempting to get writs against fishermen salvaging wooden beams from drowned buildings. The “St. Marcellus’ Flood” of 1362 (also called the Grote Mandrenke: “The Great Drowner of Men”) completed the job. In 1400 the walls of Ravensrodd could still be seen at low tide, but not long after that even the location of Ravensrodd was forgotten.

Trail of Cthulhu: The Shadow Over Ravensrodd

“… that town of Ravenserodd … was an exceedingly famous borough devoted to merchandise, as well as many fisheries, most abundantly furnished with ships …. But yet, with all inferior places, and chiefly by wrong-doing on the sea, by its wicked works and piracies, it provoked the wrath of God against its self beyond measure.”

— Thomas de Burton, Chronicle of Meaux Abbey (1396)

A mysterious island rises from the waves, becomes immensely profitable in gold and fish, then “by its wicked works” it drowns again. One hardly has to stretch to cast Ravensrodd as a medieval Innsmouth, destroyed by God rather than by J. Edgar Hoover. The Ravensrodd versions of the Marshes and Gilmans include family names such as: Barell, Selby, Brune, Cotes or Cokes or Coas, Rottenherring (meaning “red herring”), Keeling, Ferby, and perhaps most excitingly de la Pole, who married into not only the royal House of York but the poetic Chaucer family.

These families mostly removed to Hull in Yorkshire after Ravensrodd went down, or in some cases well before, buying up choice properties and investing in towns as far north as Whitby. So a Keeper looking for weird connections in Hull might begin with the mysterious (dream-driven?) suicide on December 6, 1924 of housebreaker Edward “Fanlight Jimmy” McMahon. McMahon apparently hanged himself in gaol despite having no motive to do so, after breaking into a house on Chariot Street. What did he see there that he couldn’t forget, or that Something wanted him to keep silent about?

Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers might also want to look into the murders in Hull of prostitutes Margaret Lowson (1966) and Evelyn Edwards (1967). One Samuel Stephenson (a stereotypical serial killer, down to the letters to Scotland Yard) confessed to Lowson’s murder and was convicted of it, but Edwards’ remains officially unsolved. The other Deep One spoor that decade is the Hull triple trawler tragedy: three trawlers out of Hull sank in January 1968, one of them only a day out of port.

NIght’s Black Agents: The Ravensrodd Inheritance

“… the inundations of the sea and of the Humber had destroyed to the foundations the chapel of Ravensrodd, built in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the corpses and bones of the dead there horribly appeared …”

— Thomas de Burton, Chronicle of Meaux Abbey (1396)

As I mentioned, the port of Old Ravenser goes back to Viking times or before, beginning as a monastic hermitage in 600 or so, a Danish invasion port in the centuries that follow, and reduced to only one manor house by 1400. At some point perhaps the monks drove something out into the sea, something that raised its own island and spread its own foul influence, trying to supplant the Counts of Aumale (all six of the Countess of Aumale’s children predeceased her; the line became extinct in 1274) and lurking in the manor house until the chapel drowned.

That something is the Danish vampiric spirit called the nikke (mentioned as the neck or nykr in the Director’s Handbook, p. 233). It might appear as a horse or as a bearded man or as a beautiful woman or youth. (In human form it has a slit ear, or a dripping wet garment.) Its “true appearance” may be that of a worm with blood-sucking tendrils. It surfaces every so often to work its wiles or slake its thirst in Hull: William Bolton kills Jane Allen in her flat in Andrew Marvell Terrace on October 17, 1902, stabbing her three times and himself once in the neck “in his sleep.” Six years later Thomas Siddle deprives himself of food, cuts his wife’s throat with a razor on June 9, 1908, stands stunned at the crime scene, remains insensible in prison, claims “something came over me; I only realised what I had done when blood was on my hand” …

Nikke

General Abilities: Aberrance 16, Hand-to-Hand 8, Health 10

Hit Threshold: 4 (above water), 6 (under water)

Alertness Modifier: +1 (at edge of water), +2 (on the water), +3 (under water)

Stealth Modifier: +2 (when not singing)

Damage Modifier: +0 (grasp; damage first to Athletics then to Health)

Armor: -1 (subcutaneous scales) or Corpse

Free Powers: Drain (drains air and blood from lungs, as Heat Drain), Regeneration (2 Health per round in water; all damage by next high tide), Strangling Grasp (as Lamia; NBA, p. 151)

Other Powers: Musical Enthrallment and Musical Madness (both as Mental Attacks; NBA, p. 131), Turn to Creature (Horse, Snake); Apportation (to its lair or to anywhere touched by its waters), Clairvoyance (everywhere touched by its waters), Dominate, Howl (when in the presence of a future drowning victim), Magic (Call Storms, Multiply Fish), Mesmerism, Necromancy

Banes: saying its name

Compulsions: sell magic to those who pay for it with “three drops of blood,” accept a coin dropped in water in lieu of a life

Blocks: iron knife or a steel fire-striker

Requirements: drown or drain humans, remain in or near its waters by day

Five desperate adventures to save the living from the hungry dead!

Pre-order now and get the pre-order draft PDF immediately!

They are so old they cannot remember their names. They are pale, spindly things, with long fingers that scuttle like cave-spiders and hollow eyes. They are strong – immensely, inhumanly strong – but act like old, arthritic men, shuffling along painfully, conserving their strength for when they need it. They are fast – terrifying, breathtakingly fast – but they move slowly, cautiously, fearfully. Their fear outweighs their preternatural gifts; for centuries, survival and control have been their watchwords, their overriding goals. We must not die, they whisper in the dark, even though they can no longer recall what it is to live.

And if the world must die so they can live, so be it.

The Persephone Extraction is a campaign for Night’s Black Agents, combining ancient horrors from classical mythology with the modern terrors of conspiracy and bioterrorism. It includes the following adventures:

  • THE PERSEPHONE EXTRACTION (Emma Marlow): Someone’s framed the Agents for a murder that hasn’t happened – yet. Warring factions within the Conspiracy struggle for control of a biological weapon, and its designer holds the answers the Agents need. Can they find Morgane Le Corre before her pursuers track her down – and just who else is hunting her?
  • SLEEPING GIANTS (Will Plant): The trail leads through Moscow to a sealed city, where forbidden plagues slumber in a concrete tomb buried deep beneath the tundra. The Conspiracy are on their way here, to obtain more of the pathogen they need to implement their cryptic Pale Agenda. The Agents are all that stands between the vampires and the plague…
  • CLEAN-HEELED ACHILLES (Heather Albano): Mysterious disappearances and archaeological traces bring the Agents to Istanbul, where they must uncover the secrets of an ancient monastery – and descend into the Underworld to confront the living dead.
  • THE PALE AGENDA (Bill White): The Conspiracy intends to recruit an international drug smuggler as part of their plan to end the world – but that initiation gives the Agents a vitally needed entry vector into the vampires’ most cherished tool. Corporate intrigue meets occult rituals in Madrid…
  • THE PEOPLE OF ASH (Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan): The final assault on the Conspiracy takes the Agents to Greece. There, they must uncover the ancient lair of the vampire elders and destroy them, once and for all time. Their clandestine odyssey ends in darkness…
Stock #: PELGN14 Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Heather Albano, Emma Marlow, Will Plant, Bill White

Pre-order now


Front cover_350Looking Glass: Hong Kong
is a “Low and Slow” city setting for many possible GUMSHOE games. This look at one of Asia’s most cramped and chaotic ports features the lay of the land, including markets and masses, and three unique backdrops for the main setting – a scenic or thematic element, or just somewhere to stage a fight scene. It also details Hong Kong’s factions, from organized crime all the way up to the The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and includes thirteen Hong Kong-flavoured adventure seeds. Use Looking Glass: Hong Kong in:

  • Night’s Black Agents as a modern-day equivalent to the role West Berlin plays in post-WW2 spy dramas – a speck of room to manoeuvre, just on the edge of an authoritarian state, with HK-themed alien, mutant, and damned vampires;
  • The Esoterrorists, as Esoterror operatives capitalize on on the city’s key fears of disease, and the dead;
  • Fear Itself, playing on the alienating effect of isolation within one of the most densely packed places on Earth;
  • Trail of Cthulhu, with extensive notes on Mythos locations and practices of an occult bent that would sit well in the backstory of any investigation.

This supplement exists in a world of instantaneous oceans of information, and holds plenty of rash generalizations, needed for game play and speed of familiarization. It’s not intended to be comprehensive; instead, it combines a few evocative details with broad-brush color. It is intended as a starter, a foundation for your own adventures, a framework on which to hang the fruits of your own research, similar to its sister title, Looking Glass: Mumbai.

Zip file contains PDF, EPUB and MOBI files.

Stock #: PELGN13D Author: Thomas McGrenery
Artist: Badger McInnes Pages: 20pg PDF

 

Buy it now

I got a friend over there in the government block
And he knows the situation and he’s taking stock,
I think I’ll call him up now
Put him on the spot, tonight.

— Bob Geldof, “Someone’s Looking At You”

I see you, GCHQ!

                           I see you, GCHQ!

Her Majesty the Queen having graciously given her assent at the end of last month, the Investigatory Powers Bill has become the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016. And what’s the Investigatory Powers Act when it’s at home? At its bottom, it’s two Acts in one. The first half essentially provides legal cover to the program of mass surveillance that MI5 and GCHQ have been doing in the United Kingdom for years and years: gathering the metadata (who called who when from where) on every phone or text message in the UK and storing it. The second half allows a remarkably wide spectrum of the British government to access the ICRs (Internet Connection Records) of every website, app, and similar reached from or based in the UK. When you browse good old pelgranepress.com, GCHQ (and Scotland Yard, and the fire department, and Food Standards Scotland, and … ) can find out when you visited (though not which specific page), how long you stayed, your ISP number, and a few more interesting facts, all without the tedium of a warrant. (Further provisions allow the British government to hack individuals or even entire cities, but they have to get permission from a panel of judges for that.) As you might infer, that means staying underground in Night’s Black Agents just got harder, for Agents and vampires alike.

But ha ha ha, I hear you chortle, I’m an American so GCHQ can GCHFO. Not so fast, my fine patriotic friend. First of all, as Edward Snowden revealed, the NSA (in the great tradition of public-private partnership) works with telecommunications and Internet companies to gather and store similar metadata and ICRs. The recently enacted USA Freedom Act of 2015 ended the legal authority for the NSA to maintain its own metadata archive (unless it didn’t) but reinforced the NSA’s access to theoretically private corporate versions of the same records. (The USA Freedom Act not only extended most of the relevant provisions of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 but also managed to achieve an even more bleakly ironic name.) And of course, none of these laws by careful design did anything about Five Eyes cooperation, slightly better known as ECHELON.

ECHELON began in 1961 as a cooperative effort between the NSA and GCHQ to monitor (i.e., tap and record) all communications satellite transmissions, then spread to telephone switchboards, transoceanic cable traffic, radio signals, and finally the nascent Internet in 1981. By then the US and UK SIGINT agencies had been joined by the relevant surveillance forces in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand: hence Five Eyes. Even then, that was a misnomer, as Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway had varying degrees of access to Five Eyes product. India, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, South Korea, and Singapore (among others) have more limited deals in exchange for hosting ECHELON SIGINT facilities. France almost made it Six Eyes in 2009 (France has its own Intelligence Act of 2015 for metadata and ICR collection) but the CIA vetoed the full partnership required. (Don’t worry, France gets most of the benefits of Five Eyes membership under the LUSTRE agreement of 2011.) Because it is a full partnership: if, say, some pesky and ironically named law prevents the NSA from snooping on American citizens’ records, the NSA just asks Canada’s CSE to snoop on American records, all legal under Canadian law. And the NSA is sure to return the favor if the CSE wants to track some Canadian radical in Toronto.

The Heat is (Echel) ON

When it’s too hot to breathe
And it’s too hot to think.
There’s always someone looking at you.

— Bob Geldof, “Someone’s Looking At You”

So what care you about such civics metadata? You’ve got vampires to kill. Not so fast, my burned buddy: All those eyes could start watching you any minute, especially after you start setting off bombs and shooting people near security cameras. Even if who you were shooting didn’t show up on the cameras.

This might turn up in any number of ways. If the Agents have an active opposition within that government — vampire infiltrators, Project EDOM, or just a grimly determined Javert — then they need to stay off the Internet. And off their phones. Even burner phones, or perhaps even especially burner phones.

The Director can abstract this by adding +1 to all Heat roll Difficulties in a Five Eyes or associated country for each 2 points spent on Research or Network (looking on the Internet; calling someone for help). If the Director thinks a certain investigation or operation involves a little too much Web browsing or phone activity, she can always toss in another +1 on top.

Heat is also hotter in the Five Eyes’ targets, of course: the NSA makes a very deliberate habit of owning all electronic communications in Iran and Pakistan, for instance. Just quickly scanning the map, it looks like your best bet is a country like Uzbekistan where the government uses old-fashioned surveillance to track foreigners but doesn’t have an electronic cooperation deal with the NSA, or a region mostly off the security systems’ radar like West Africa or the Caribbean.

If the Agents whine that “of course they were on Tor” or whatever, she can remind them that the NSA cracked those systems years ago, but allow points spent on Digital Intrusion or Preparedness to “shield” points spent on Research and Network in Five Eyes nations. If the Agents have a case officer or other contact in ECHELON, they might even get a free “Heat shield” for their online (or on-phone) activities … as long as they do a favor or five for their Big Brother, of course.

The good news, at least in the UK, is that the ludicrous list of agencies allowed to snoop electronic activity means that the Agents are sure to have a Network contact who can get access to a Conspiracy courier’s cell phone metadata, or a vampirism researcher’s Internet activity. Lower the Network Difficulty for such tests by -1 in the UK.

The Land Beyond The Forest

dossier_draculaThe old woman confirms that she is, indeed, Mina Harker. She’s kept herself alive with vampire blood for more than a century, for if she dies while Dracula lives, she’ll become his Un-Dead slave. She contemplated ending her own life in 1940, before Edom could bring Him back, but she could not be sure if the operation would succeed and so clung to another few years – which turned into another whole lifetime, maybe more.

She knows about the check on Dracula, and suspects that it is connected to the work of Professor Van Helsing. He and dear John Seward moved to Germany after the events of 1894, and she suspects that John was still in love with sweet Lucy. Katherine Reed died in Germany in 1910, a supposed suicide. On killing vampires, she knows that the key is that the vampire must be weighted down with memories of its mortal life, or else carried over that threshold of eternity by another soul. It was not the knife that destroyed Dracula – it was brave Quincey Morris, whose death dragged the Count down into the afterlife.

Of course, the knife helped – and she gives the Agents a box containing her husband’s Kukri and Morris’ bowie knife.

Brussels. In a dark room, the agents learn that the Catholic Church has been funding a project began by Van Helsing in the early years of the 20th century, a countermeasure that has kept Dracula in check for a century. The countermeasure is based in…

Munich. In an underground complex near the Deadhouse, the agents are met by the old men who run Undertaking Brown, Van Helsing’s countermeasure. She rests her, in her rooms, as she has done for more than a hundred years. The keepers caution the Agents not to address her by her old name – she is Alraune now. She yearns to destroy Dracula, and she has the power to do so,, but they cannot risk letting her attack the Count in his place of power in Romania – the Count has too many allies and servants there. If Alraune were left off the leash, she would charge into Romania and be destroyed before she reached the mysterious Castle Dracula – wherever that is. Instead, she keeps Dracula from extending his reach beyond Romania; whenever he rattles the bars of his prison cell, Alraune is drawn to his presence and forces him to withdraw.

Lately, though, she has not been herself, and Undertaking Brown fear that the countermeasure is breaking down. The Agents explain that Dracula’s allies were trying to disrupt the link between Kate Reed’s ghost and Lucy Westenra. Now that the Hillingham Working is done, there shouldn’t be any more attacks of that sort.

Finally, the agents are allowed in to speak with Alraune. Thanks to his new psychic powers, Fitzy is able to see the spirit of Kate Reed, bound to her friend and ensuring that Dracula has no hold over the vampiric Lucy. “Alraune” demands that the Agents set her free, so she can hunt down and destroy Dracula; in this case, the enemy of their enemy is definitely not their friend, and talking to “Alraune” is like being trapped in a room with a hungry tiger. Still, they arrange to have her brought to the borders of Romania – if they can lure Dracula close to her, maybe she can be released to destroy her quarry without running into whatever traps and barriers the Count has prepared for her.

Romania. McAllister’s player quickly sketches out the farm (which turns out to be a farm with a newly installed CCTV system attached to a derelict church next to a graveyard near running water, because give a player an inch and they’ll take a precision-engineered anti-vampire stronghold), and spends Preparedness to ensure that he’s pre-arranged an emergency strategy with his family (if bad guys come, head thataway). Baptiste takes up position with a sniper rifle, Elgin sneaks in to recon the place, Fitzy finds a foxhole. There’s a dozen bad guys, including Elvis and several Edom Jacks.

McAllister drives up the long, winding laneway to his farm. Elvis comes out to meet him, and gets about five words into a monologue (“You’ve made the right decision-“) before the first grenade gets thrown. It explodes at his feet, and battle is joined. The Agents initially hold their own – Elgin manages to lock three Edom soldiers in a barn, giving the team some valuable breathing space, Fitzy proves a dab hand with lobbing grenades, and Baptiste grabs a Night’s Black Agents convention rules reference and quickly masters the sniping rules to considerable effect. Then countersniping takes its toll, Elgin ends up in a close-quarters knife fight with a Serum-using jack (by close quarters, I mean “rolling around in the mud at the bottom of the farm’s well”), and McAllister takes several bad hits. Elgin survives only by using his own dose of Seward Serum.

The Farmhouse Battle

The Farmhouse Battle

Fortunately, McAllister’s extended family show up, and it turns out that marrying into a clan of faintly sinister Romanian partisans has its advantages. The team retreat into the graveyard under Uncle Grigori’s covering fire, just in time for Dracula to show up – fortunately, on the far side of the running stream. Nonetheless, Fitzy tries hiding behind the fallen spire of the old church, figuring that if a crucifix is good, a six-foot-tall iron cross is better.

The Count threatens them again. “That one,“ he says, pointing at Fitzy, “has power. That one” – Elgin – “has a connection to Reed. You will bring me the bitch ghost, or you will all die. There is no escape. You think killing these men will stop me! I will raise up my whole country against you!”

The Count vanishes into the mist, and the wolves close in.

The next morning finds the Agents in a mountain cabin with several of McAllister’s relatives (“they heal you with old peasant cures. Also, because it’s the 21st century and Romania isn’t a land of racist stereotypes, one cousin is an army medic”). When the Agents (bar Elgin, who decides to lurk inside out of the sunshine to protect his pool of Seward Serum points) emerge, they find the hillside is littered with the bodies of dozens of wolves. Overhead, a huge storm rages across the countryside, and they hear rumours of gangs of Ruvari Szgany and other criminal groups causing havoc all across the country. The Romanian armed forces are on alert, including the forces at the nearby air force base, which the Agents suspect are agents of Dracula.

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Looking for the Castle

After a brief detour to collect the ghost engine buried by the Edom commandoes in 1940, the team go looking for Castle Dracula. They’ve already worked out that the castle can’t be any of the ‘real’ candidates like Bran or Hunedora, but it’s only when Elgin tries putting the brooch back on that they realise the truth: Castle Dracula is in the land of the dead. It’s in that spiritual subduction zone between life and death. It’s everywhere in Transylvania, in the blood and the soil of that troubled land.

As they walk through the forest, the air grows chill. The shadows lengthen, and the pale sunlight that sometimes breaks through the rainclouds seems to slow and weirdly congeal. And then, on the ridge ahead, they see the castle.

McAllister’s family are unwilling to cross the threshold, so the four Agents enter. The gatehouse and courtyard are empty, but there are signs of life, and an old man (one of the Silent Servants) opens a side door for them. The Servant indicates that the Master will come to them at nightfall, and shows them up to a dining room where meals have been prepared for them. There’s also a circle of candles, like the circle in Singleton’s house. Clearly, Dracula intends for Fitzy to complete the psychic’s plan and tear Kate Reed’s ghost from Lucy Westenra’s body, turning “Alraune” from a weapon aimed at Dracula’s heart back into one of his Brides.

After a few nervous minutes, McAllister and Baptiste go exploring. They find the library, the room where Harker stayed… and the room that leads to that vertiginous drop, the sheer wall that leads down to Dracula’s lair. It’s still daylight. Dracula should be sleeping down there… and they’ve got stakes, and the knives given to them by Mina Harker. Why not end him now?

In the banqueting room, Fitzy assembles the old Ghost Engine, while Elgin contacts the Undertaking Brown handlers and relays the location of the breach into the land of the dead – gambling that if Alraune knows where Dracula is, she can go there directly and take the King down. All the Agents need to do is occupy the Count until Alraune arrives.

Even though the pair of spies have ropes and climbing gear, the climb down the wall is still nerve-wrecking for Baptiste and McAllister. The castle walls betray them, with seemingly solid stones crumbling when touched, and ropes tangling and twisting at the worst moments. Still, they make it down and discover a huge chamber in the depths. Searching, they discover several coffins, including one huge sarcophagus made of stone. Engraved on it is the legend

DRACULA

They open the coffin.

It’s empty.

In the distance, a gate clang open, and wolves pour into the room.

Upstairs… “Did you not read the Irishman’s book? Did you forget I can walk abroad during the day if I choose?”

“Without your powers,” points out Elgin.

“And when that sun sinks beyond those trees,” says Dracula, pointing out the window at the setting sun, “I shall have the power to destroy your souls, unless you serve me. Call the ghost, and I shall set you free.”

Fitzy has, by now, assembled a circle of crucifixes around himself and the ghost engine. “You can’t touch me.”

“You think THOSE will stop me? Here, in my place of power? Look – the sun dies. The powers of darkness rule now.” He steps past the line of crosses and lifts Fitzy by the throat. “Summon Reed NOW or I dash your brains out on the floor!”

Fitzy, in a moment of beautiful confusion, responds “summon who?” His player had forgotten that Kate is Katherine Reed (the group had been referring to her as Kate).  Dracula, in a spasm of fury, hurls Fitzy across the room. Elgin uses his Seward Serum-granted speed and darts forward, grabs a sword from above the mantelpiece, and runs Dracula through.

The Count responds by taking down another sword, and driving it through Elgin’s chest. The thief dies.

“SUMMON HER!” he roars at Fitzy. Fitzy switches on the ghost engine, which shakes the whole castle and sends it falling to Hell.

Baptiste and McAllister, having escaped the wolves by climbing back up the wall, burst into the room. McAllister, for the second time, shoots Dracula in the face with silver. Baptiste, having injected himself with the second dose of Seward Serum recovered from the hospital in Edinburgh, slashes at the Count with Harker’s kukri. McAllister stabs with the Bowie knife. Dracula’s still a fearsome foe, but he spent much of his Aberrance on raising up wolves and storms across Romania, and he’s felt the bite of these knives before. He knows, too, that he doesn’t need this fight – the intruders are trapped in his castle. He can retreat, heal, and then destroy them one by one. He begins to turn to mist…

All through the fight, Fitzy’s used his talent to be a beacon. He’s summoning “Alraune” all right, but not into the binding circle of candles. Lucy Westerna crosses the Romanian border as a golden hurricane, a cloud of mist racing against the wind. Battered and wounded by Dracula’s occult defences, she has almost no strength left when she descends on the castle… but Dracula’s weakened too. The two mist-forms entwine, entangle, like drowning figures they fall through the floor, through the foundations of the castle… beyond the final threshold of death.

As the castle collapses, the surviving Agents stagger across the courtyard, and find themselves climbing a steep slope in a grey and mournful land. They stumble blindly up, out of the land of the dead. For a moment, they glimpse a fourth figure. Was it a dark-haired woman, pointing the way back to the light?

And then it’s strong rough hands, woollen blankets thrown across shoulders, the smell of sweat and cigarettes and garlic, as McAllister’s family finds them and brings them home.

CODA 1: A newspaper report relates how Ms. Ellen Mowbray, a long-term resident of a retirement home in Malvern Hills, vanished on the night of Dracula’s death. Other reports and rumblings from the clandestine world talk about a series of mysterious murders, said to be almost… vampiric. Someone’s cleaning house inside Edom.

CODA 2: Nearly a year later, a youngish man with a jaunty cravat knocks on the door of the stately home at Ring, ancestral seat of the Holmwood family. “The name’s Fitz,” he says, and there’s an unearthly light in his eyes. “I think you’ve got an opening for me.”

We Ask No Proofs, We Ask None To Believe Us: Fifteen hours of play over two days was an intense but immensely rewarding experience. I certainly had a fantastic time running it, and I believe the players enjoyed themselves. My thanks to all of them, especially Shane and Andy who both came over from the UK for the convention. Also, thanks go to Gaelcon (especially Janet) for organising everything and coping with a novel game setup. 

Running the game over the Halloween weekend added extra weight to the ghostly elements of the whole affair. The encounter with Cotford’s ghost was one of my favourite scenes in the whole campaign. Having only five sessions meant I was able to stick to a strong theme throughout; something to experiment with in future longcon games, perhaps. 

The following image, taken the following evening on Halloween  neatly sums up both my exhaustion and elation after running the game.

VAMPIRES!

VAMPIRES!

< Session 4 – The Prime of Miss Ellen Mowbray

The Prime of Ms. Ellen Mowbray

Confronting_the_count_inks_350A terrifying, elemental storm strikes Osmond Singleton’s mansion. The windows shudder as the wind hammers at them. The power goes out as lightning blasts transformers all over South London. Nearby, three members of the team – McAllister (who managed to dodge the MI5 street teams that were crawling all over Westminster), Fitzy (who’s still slipping in and out of reality, and isn’t sure if he’s still playing the role of Alfred Singleton or not…), and Elgin (who saw the Edom team clean up the mess at Hillingham and exit stage right) meet back at the pub recommended by Rev. Rogers. The last member of the quartet, Baptiste, is still locked inside the mansion, hiding inside a wardrobe as Dracula’s wrath roars around the city.

For a brief time, it looks as though the holy wafers, garlic and other supernatural blocks placed at every door might be enough to thwart the Vampire King.

Then one of the ancient yew trees surrounding the house is uprooted by the wind and topples through an upstairs window, shattering the seals.

Dracula coalesces out of the mist. Singleton pleads for his life, promising that he will complete the ritual tomorrow night, that he’ll bind the girl, but he just needs time. It is too late. The Count’s patience is exhausted – Singleton is only the first to die as the Count rampages through the house. Baptiste flees in the confusion and meets up with the rest of the team.

After fortifying the room against natural and supernatural threats, they discuss options – it’s clear that they’ve done some serious damage to whatever was going on, but they’re not sure what Dracula’s plan is, or what Edom’s involvement is. Hopkins told them that Edom was trying to bring Dracula back to England and that she was trying to stop this, but Dracula’s already in London, so what’s going on? What was the point of the ritual at Hillingham, and why were the ghosts of Lucy Westenra and Kate Reed being raised from the dead? (Also, they’re talking about ghosts now, not just vampires, which is a whole other White Wolf sourcebook of weird. Also, Baptiste stole several documents from Singleton, including Hawkins Paper 20, implying that psychic talents may also be in play.)

The discussion is interrupted by a scuttling noise from the roof. They quickly work out that it’s the Child Vampire run by Edom, CALIBAN. The barriers and crucifixes keep him out, and they switch to secure electronic means (WhatsApp) to continue their conversation, but Edom’s on the way. Soon, the front door of the pub is smashed down by MI5, and the team exit via the back, blowing Urban Survival and Surveillance MOSes to escape the dragnet.

They consider going to another safe house, but en route spot a military land rover with a familiar face in the back seat. It’s Oakes, the Edom Duke they spotted at Whitby. When he spots them approaching, he lunges forward and garrottes his driver into unconsciousness, then calls out over the radio that this sector is clear – clearly, he’s willing to talk to the Agents.

Plotting the Conspiracy

Plotting the Conspiracy

Oakes explains that he believes Edom has been compromised by Dracula, and has been since the 70s. There’s some force that keeps Dracula in check, some barrier that restricts his ability to act and keeps him trapped in Romania, and Oakes fears that elements in Edom are trying to dismantle that safeguard. He leaked information to Hopkins because he wanted to preserve his position in Edom – but it looks as though he wasn’t careful enough, as Whitby was a trap for his allies. He suspects he’ll soon be arrested or killed, too. He does offer some assistance – the team loot military radios with Edom encryption, giving them some material for Traffic Analysis, and also gives them the address of someone who might be able to help them more. It’s a retirement home in Malvern Hills, and their contact there is Ellen Mowbray.

The team fake an assault on Oakes, to make it look like they took him prisoner, and then head to Rev. Roger’s flat to hide for the night. The choirmaster has gone on a hasty holiday, but leaves contact details for some senior figures at the Archdiocese of Mechellen-Brussels who know more about the Un-Dead.

Next morning, they decide to gather more information about vampires. Step one is collecting the staked corpse of Inspector Cotford from its coffin at Coldfall Woods, and loading him into the Reverend’s car. They also collect the jet brooch from Elgin’s courier. The plan is to work out how to kill a vampire (Cotford’s corpse implies that a dead vampire doesn’t turn to dust, so what did happen when Quincey and Harker stabbed Dracula all those years ago.) Investigation of Cotford’s corpse is less than illuminating, so they head to an hypnotist that Baptiste knows from his MI6 days – she’s a therapist who specialises in PTSD, but has also been involved in debriefing assets and other unusual cases. Elgin’s brooch seems connected to Dracula, Elgin suspects he’s connected to the ghost of Katherine Reed, and recovered documents bear out the usefulness of hypnosis, so… it’s worth a shot.

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At the therapists, Baptiste and Elgin head upstairs, while the other two (three, counting Cotford’s corpse) wait in the car.

Elgin takes out the brooch and puts it on at the moment of sunset. The world seems to darken; the setting sun leaves a bloody smear on the sky. The lights of London recede, leaving the medical centre (and its car park) alone in a seemingly infinite darkness. It is similar to the effects of the ghost engine at Hillingham, but more pronounced.

Under hypnosis, Elgin makes contact with Kate Reed’s ghost – and finds himself in the body of a woman again. He looks in a mirror, and there’s no reflection. He’s seeing through Lucy’s eyes – and she’s still alive, or Un-Dead at least! He can tell that she’s in Munich.

Outside, the activation of the brooch has called up another ghost. Over the radio comes a sepulchral voice – “Singleton? Is that you? Let me in, you damned fool. Open the carriage and let me in!”

The ghost of inspector Cotford has returned, and he wants his body back. When the pair refuse, the ghost attacks the car. Tyres pop, bulbs explode, the electrical system burns out, the windscreen shatters, but they keep the stake in the corpse’s heart and drive the ghost away with crucifixes and garlic. Putting that horrific encounter together with Oakes’ account of Edom’s past activities, they guess that Edom used a ghost engine in 1940 to resurrect Dracula. It seems that slaying a vampire’s body is only a temporary measure – its ghost can be brought back to reinhabit the husk again.

When the brooch is removed and normal reality reassert itself, McAllister gets a phone call. Caller ID says its Sarita, his Romanian wife, but the voice on the other end is English and mocking. “Call me Elvis. I’ve got your family here, and quite a fucking collection of power tools. This drill, for instance. Unless you’re here by midnight tomorrow, this drill is going through her skull. Understand?”

Another council of war, and frantic checking of flight times. They decide that they can cross the country yet again, visit Oakes’ contact, and then fly to Brussels and drive onto Munich and then finally Bucharest before the midnight deadline. It’s risky, and means leaving McAllister’s wife in Edom/Dracula’s clutches, but they want to assemble all the allies they can manage.

They arrive at the retirement home before dawn, and sneak into the room. There’s an old, old woman sleeping there, and they wake her.

“Mina Harker, I presume.”

Elgin's Notes

Elgin’s Notes

You Know This Because You Are Psychic: Fitzy was supposed to be a one-session temporary character, but the player decided to come back for the remaining two sessions, so I hastily wrote Psychic 2 as an investigative ability on his character sheet, justifying it as a result of Fitzy channelling the spirit of Alfred Singleton during the Hillingham Working. His actual abilities were never explored until the end of the adventure, but even just having it on his sheet justified having an out-of-work actor running around on a par with ex-spies and ex-soldiers. (Admittedly, Fitzy also had absurdly high scores in Weapons and Athletics as well as Disguise – stage fighting, of course, darling.)

Parallel Trails: You can never be quite sure in an improvised campaign which clue the players are going to follow next. Often, you end up throwing out the same lead several times in different forms. For example, the importance of Exeter as an Edom base got brought up dozen times in the first four sessions, and I was sure they’d check it out at least once on their many road trips, but they never got there. The Unredacted dossier hinted at Exeter; I mentioned it when they were discussing Harker; they saw Oakes and Hound driving back to Exeter; there was radio traffic in the Edinburgh hospital pointing there and so on.

Similarly, I dropped a bunch of leads to Munich – Elgin stole the brooch there, his psychic visions pointed there, various documents pointed there. I also intended for Reverend Roger’s connections in the church to point the Agents there. Given the pressures of time, the Brussels link was a mistake – I should have just had Rogers’ allies be based in Munich all the time, and dropped the Brussels element entirely.

In a longer campaign, I could have fleshed out Brussels into a full adventure, or at least a full encounter, as opposed to the stilted “Hello. I am Catholic Vampire Hunter Priest. There is nothing in Brussels other than me saying ‘go to Munich’” scene we got in the final session.

The GM in Repose

The GM in Repose

The Crook: The phone call to McAllister threatening his family is an absolute cliché, but it works. Pacing can be an issue in an improvised campaign; the Vampyramid helps by prompting escalating responses, but with only one session to go, I needed to force a confrontation, and this was a simple and effective way to do it. A full campaign could deploy something more subtle than this ‘crook’ (a shepherd’s crook is basically a hook that drags you forcibly along), but a convention game or one-shot needs a weapon like this in the GM’s back pocket. 

< Session 3 – Street Theatre

The Land Beyond The Forest – Session 5 >

Street Theatre

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Hawkes & Fitzy

The team retreats from Singleton’s house. They decide that they need some spiritual assistance, and contact a Network ally of theirs, Revered Rogers (any resemblance to Simon Rogers of Pelgrane is purely deliberate). Rogers meets them in a private room at a nearby pub, and brings along a bag of crucifixes along with two potential allies (and our second two temporary player characters – a Metropolitan Police detective names Hawkes and an actor called Fitzy.

(Elgin’s player missed half this session; the thief hid in Singleton’s house until he was able to escape and rejoin the rest of the group. He also had a weird vision-flash when he broke the circle of blue candles – he was in the body of a woman, dressed in modern-day clothes, and there was a man shouting at her in German.

A Message From Beyond

A Message From Beyond

When he recovered, he found he was holding a copy of Hawkins Paper 14, on which he’d circled several key words.)

Hawkes had discovered the Met’s extensive files on vampire-like attacks, dating back to the 1890s. She’d also discovered that officers who looked too deeply into any of these incidents tended to get transferred to dead-end jobs. Fitzy, meanwhile, was a former regular at Singleton’s decadent parties who had fled to Reverend Rogers after a troubling spiritual encounter with the occultist. Furthermore, Singleton just contacted Fitzy again, offering him a role in a ‘dramaturgical ceremony’ tonight (“the role of a lifetime, dear boy”).

After a lengthy discussion of options, the team decide to start by checking out Coldfall Woods. They quickly uncover a ruined cellar in some waste ground that matches the spot on an old map of London they found with the Dossier in Whitby. Exploring, they meet Richard Crinn (the Madman, DH p. 121), who Hawkes recognises as a known junkie. He rants about the three girls – one dead, one alive, one un-dead, and other cryptic nonsense, but the team are more interested in finding out what’s behind an Architecturally-suspicious wall than sifting through Crinn’s babblings. Hawkes calls some local social workers to take Crinn away, and warns them that he might be violent by night.

After some poking at bricks, the team smashes through the wall and finds a mysterious upright coffin and an even-more-mysterious partial skeleton entombed in concrete. Fitzy starts pulling bits of the skeleton out of the concrete, and has a psychic flash of the Norman Shaw building (DH p. 193).

The team drags the coffin out into the daylight, and – stakes and crucifixes in hand – open it. Inside, they discover the already-staked corpse of Inspector Cotford. A close examination finds that his throat has been torn open, and stuffed into the wound are several items: Cotford’s wedding ring, some photographs of his family, and a collection of teeth wrenched from a child’s mouth. They reseal the coffin and hide it again.

Fitzy gets some more details from Singleton about the arrangements for the evening. Fitzy will be playing Alfred Singleton, Osman Singleton’s putative grandfather. Enchanted by the idea of playing a sorcerer, Fitzy puts on his robe and wizard hat.

McAllister prepares some silver bullets and the team load up with crucifixes, holy water, and other counter-vampire measures.

Elgin contacts an ally in Germany and arranges for the mysterious brooch to be couriered to England.

Suspecting that the Norman Shaw buildings are central to Dracula’s plans (mainly because they’re central on the map), McAllister and Hawkes head there. Elgin heads to Hillingham;  Baptiste accompanies Fitzy back to Singleton’s. While Singleton and Fitzy argue over how to portray the original, Baptiste sneaks into the Psychic’s study and starts looting handfuls of clues.

At Hillingham, Elgin manages to get into the tent containing the mysterious machine and examines it. It consists of a portable generator, a computer console, and a contraption that consists of a jackhammer-like pillar of solid engraved silver, covered in occult runes. Elgin’s able to access some files on the computer console – they resemble heat maps, or images from ground penetrating radar. They seem to show parts of London as they were in the past, including ghostly tracks where people gathered. Zooming out, it looks like Edom have used the machine at other places around London, but there’s a big DO NOT USE sign on the map near Kingstead Ceremony.

Despite Fitzy’s increasing nervousness, he gets dressed in Alfred Singleton’s old suit and gets on the bus. (He also takes the drugs offered by Singleton.) He meets other actors playing the roles of Kate Reed, Lucy Westenra, Mrs. Westenra, Quincey Harker and other characters from the novel.

At Westminster, McAllister and Hawkes find the entrance to a maintenance tunnel, and hear spectral whispers in the darkness. Before they can investigate, Hawkes spots a man she knows to be an MI5 Agent (DH p. 122) watching them. The pair lay a trap for the Security Service office, and manage to ambush him.

The… performance? Ceremony? Séance? begins again. The machine starts up again, hammering the ground. Vibrating the old walls of Hillingham. The actors somehow become more like the characters they’re portraying, and seem almost possessed. The “scene” is the 17th of April – just after the death of Lucy Westenra (p. 202 of Unredacted for those reading along at home). As Single – as Fitzy approaches the door, he sees the other actor, the man standing next to him playing Cotford, change so he more closely resembles the corpse they found in the sealed coffin earlier that day.

At Singleton’s house, the blue flame returns. Baptiste witnesses another séance, but this time, the ghost in the circle is alternately a beautiful blonde woman or a hideous skeleton – it’s the spirit of Lucy Westenra!

At the Norman Shaw buildings, Hawkes and McAllister question the captured MI5 Agent, who’s clearly running security for Edom. They ask him if it was the Child Vampire who killed Dr. John, and he laughs at them. The Master is at hand – and mist starts to pour down from street level, coagulating into the shape of a tall man…

Fitzy tries to change the script (at this point, we were literally putting on a performance of Page 202 of Unredacted), but the psychic pressure is intense, and changing a single word requires a tremendous effort of will. In Singleton’s house, there’s a wrenching sensation as Lucy’s vampiric ghost becomes more and more manifest. The blue flames of the candles are now these blazing blue columns of fire, impossibly tall.

Under the Norman Shaw buildings, Hawkes and McAllister face down Count Dracula. McAllister fires a blessed silver bullet at the Count, injuring him, but it’s nowhere near enough to stop the vampire. He advances on the pair. Crucifixes hold him at bay; he snarls in fury and snaps the downed MI5 Agent’s neck with a casual gesture, like a man kicking a dog. “You will suffer for this insolence. Your families are mine! Your friends, mine! Your country, mine!”

Just before the actor playing Quincey Morris can announce that Lucy is dead, Elgin shoots the machine, knocking it out of phase. Fitzy collapses; everyone at Hillingham goes silent, apart from the actress playing Lucy. She just starts screaming and screaming, this banshee keen that doesn’t stop.

DraculaAnd back at Singleton’s mansion, the summoning circle is empty. The blue flames have all gone out. Baptiste listens from his hiding place as Osman Singleton orders his remaining followers to bar all the doors and windows and bring up the garlic from the cellar. “We have failed HIM, and he will not forgive. Bar the doors and pray, and we might survive the night!”

 

Spiritual Subduction Zones and other weirdness: I wanted a twist on the both the regular damned vampires and the telluric-bacteria vamps presented in the Director’s Handbook, but I also knew that the campaign works best if you can preserve the earth-tremor connection to Dracula. What I came up with was a breed of vampire that exists on a spiritual borderland between life and death.

A subduction zone is a geological term – it’s the place where one continental plate slips beneath another, causing earthquakes. This setup posits that the physical and the spiritual, life and death, are like continental plates, usually moving in parallel with one another, but in certain places, life can slip beneath death, opening a route to some spiritual underworld. This subduction, this violation of normal reality, causes both psychic and physical feedback that manifests in many ways, including earthquakes.

Vampires are spirits that have crawled out of such a subduction zone. They shouldn’t be alive, so reality keeps trying to drag them back down into that spiritual underworld. Vampires drink blood to cling to life. Staking or beheading a vampire isn’t enough to kill it, as they’re unquiet ghosts inhabiting a body. The only way to kill it is to carry its soul into the underworld, usually by weighing it down with other ghosts. That’s why the vampire Cotford was buried with tokens reminding him of his family – their ghosts would carry his spirit down into the afterworld. That’s why grave goods work.

Certain vibrations can also create artificial subduction zones; resonate the old stones of a building or the bedrock of a region at the right frequency, and it pushes the physical a little into the spiritual realm. That’s why, for example, hauntings are associated with running water. The mundane explanation is that people mistake the gurgling of some buried river or the drip of some leaky pipe for ghostly sounds, but what’s really going on is that the vibrations caused by the running water happen to resonate at the right frequency to push that site into the spiritual realm a little, allowing ghosts to form. 

Edom doesn’t have earthquake machines – they can make earthquakes, but that’s not their real purpose. They’ve got ghost engines, machines that resonate at the right frequency to create subduction zones. They used one of these to resurrect Dracula in 1940 – they opened a subduction zone, and Dracula’s spirit was able to crawl out of the spiritual realm and back into his body. (He was carried down into Hell by the ghost of Quincey Morris; if none of the company had died there, then no amount of physical damage would have stopped Dracula from returning the next night. Edom had to pull him out of Hell in 1940 to bring him back.)

Ghost engines can also be used to call up ghosts, or at least create conditions where ghosts are almost certain to manifest, as the team saw at Hillingham.

< Session 2 – There Was An Explosion Adjacent To A Helicopter

The Prime of Miss Ellen Mowbray – Session 4 >

 

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