Datavisualising the Dracula Dossier

If you hang around my social media presence (or Ken’s, whose twitterings are to mine as Dracula is to a small fruit bat), you may have seen this funky diagram floating around.

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It’s a map of every (or nearly every) node in the Dracula Dossier and the connections between them. I ostensibly built it as a proof of concept to show that you can start anywhere in the campaign and theoretically fight your way through that chain of clues all the way to Dracula, but mainly because I had gone a bit mad from cross-referencing annotations, which is why it looks like something you’d find in Renfield’s cell.

(It’s done, by the way, in Scapple, a very simple mind-mapping program. There are doubtless other more powerful and/or cheaper apps that do the same thing – I know people who use Campaign Cartographer – but Scapple was both easy and already on my machine, so I went for the lazy option. There’s a free trial of Scapple if you want to play with these maps – and it even exports straight into Scrivener for all your Edom-fanfic needs.)

That crazy mish-mash of a chart is utterly useless as a reference, of course, but mapping the nodes visually can be a handy tool for the harried Director. Here, for example, is a snapshot of a campaign that’s just started.

CU120

Discovered Clues
The players have decided to investigate annotation CU120. That annotation references the Jewelled Dagger, the Satanic Cult, Carfax, and Dracula’s safehouse network. Last session, the players began by using their contacts in Sothebys to research the provenance of the dagger. They then poked around Carfax and the old safehouse network, where they ran into the MI5 Agent and got warned to stay away from matters that don’t concern them (Make Inquiries on the Edom response pyramid). Unperturbed, they guessed that there might be hidden, unmapped tunnels leading to the cellars of the old Carfax building, and spend Network points to obtain ground-penetrating radar gear from the Seismologist.

So, what’s likely to happen this session? What should the Director prepare for? They haven’t followed up on the Satanic Cult lead yet, but if they do, the Psychic will probably come into play as an occult expert or the heir to the cult. If the Agents question him, he’ll point them at Coldfall House.

The Seismologist is currently just a background character who provided them with useful gear (dropping “canon” NPCs in as Network contacts is a fantastic way to enmesh the players in the world of the Dossier), but as soon as they realise he knows something about Operation Edom, he can point them to his old work colleague, the Retired Computer Boffin.

The Mole Hunt Who’s Who

Here’s a map of who-knew-who (or who was “supposed” to know who) during the 1977 mole hunt.

1970 Mole Hunt

 

You’ve got Cushing right in the middle, as the liaison between Five and Six. He’s got all his contacts and experts in London on the left side of the map, and the ongoing mess in Romania on the right. (Look at the Sculptor, off on her own unconnected to any other node – she’s a wild card in the investigation, a backchannel to connect any other two nodes.)

Plot 201

You can use these maps to plot different facets of the investigation. For example, say one of your players is really excited by the prospect of black magic, of forbidden tomes and underworld sorcery, and another one wants to get into the investigation of the war on terror and keep things relatively low-key and gritty. By pulling a selection of appropriate nodes into a map, you can find places where these two spheres of interest intersect, so both players get what they want out of the campaign. Here, I’ve grabbed a bunch of campaign elements that I know pertain to either the occult or terrorism, and smeared them across a canvas to see what suggests itself.

Occultvswaronterror

Right away, we’ve got a clear line of inquiry that runs from the DIFC Tasker through Holmwood and the British intelligence establishment through the Black Site stuff in Bucharest and into Al-Qaeda in Rum. We can hook in some occult elements along the way – maybe AQIR have gotten hold of an earthquake device (presumably, the one left behind by “Van Sloan’s” team in 1940. And that Spirit Board, sitting in the middle of the map – it’s tantilisingly close to the “Black Light” Black Site. The idea of interrogating people from beyond the grave could be fun, and reminds me of the Dead House in Munich.

We also have a bunch of smaller clusters or wholly unconnected nodes. Has the Archaeologist uncovered the Scholomance? Is the Caldwell Foundation operating out of the British Library? What’s the deal with the Bookseller?

Plot 202

Here’s a more evolved version of the same map, and the Satanic Cult comes to the fore.

Occultvswaronterror2

You can see how they’re pulling the strings on both sides of the war on terror. Through Philip Holmwood (Minion version) they can influence Edom’s choice of targets. Through the Tour Guide, they’ve put the Medievalist (now an AQIR sympathiser) in touch with the Bookseller who supplied the Earthquake Device. The Caldwell Foundation is carrying out its own investigation, using the Psychic as a double agent – but the Cult are making arrangements to flip the Psychic by providing him with his longed-for copy of Le Dragon Noir. Maybe if the Agents can intercept the Smuggler, they can stop their plan and keep the Psychic on the side of the angels.

The Archaeologist is still off to the side, not really linked into the main plot. That’s fine – I can drop hints and foreshadowing relating to him that might never pay off, or I can bring him onstage later on if the campaign’s heading for a big setpiece involving the Scholomance or Zalmoxis. Similarly, I’ve left the Enigmatic Monsignor floating – I’m suddenly taken with the idea that the Black Site Interrogator’s off-the-books dabbling in necromancy have plunged him into religious terror, and the Agents could flip him by posing as priests and reawakening his lapsed faith. (Glancing at his writeup, I note that Ken has serendipitously given him an older brother in the priesthood – I might retask the Enigmatic Monsigor for that role).

Note the Arms Runner’s connection to Leutner Fabrichen and from there to the Syrian General. If the players get bogged down, I can have them run into the Arms Runner, giving them another avenue of investigation that’ll lead back to my main plot.

The other key map to your campaign, of course, is the Conspyramid. As you play through, keep building the Conspyramid from the bottom up as a tool for pacing. For example, here’s how part of the Conspyramid might look in this case.

Partial Conspyramid

I’ve added the Romanian Ministry of, er, Cult-ure as a Level 3 node to bridge the gap between the Tour Guide/Bookseller and the Cult itself.

(The upcoming Dracula Deck of cards works great for this sort of visualisation, too, if you don’t want to spend hours entering every node into Scapple again after forgetting to save the first two times, he muttered bitterly. Here’s a Scapple document containing every single node, also available in XML.)

11 Responses to “Datavisualising the Dracula Dossier”

  1. George says:

    Sometime, last year I think, there was an interesting conversation in the comments section of one of Robin’s articles regarding the many different ways one would want to consume the information in a rulebook ( http://pelgranepress.wpengine.com/index.php/the-threefold-path-of-rpg-reading/ ). Back then I had expressed the desire to one day see modules come with their own XML file. I’m a big fan of Gareth’s work (Dragon Warriors, Pelgrane stuff, you name it) and it’s great to see him boldly go where no one has gone before (at least to my knowledge). Gareth and everyone else at Pelgrane, keep up the good work!

  2. Tom Abella says:

    I’ve actually been working on something similar with d3.js, which is a little more user-friendly for people on the front end (once you’ve done all the heavy lifting of creating the content). Ultimately, I’d hope to be able to build a little toolbox into the page that allows you to select certain parameters to show (e.g., showing/hiding Unredacted links, removing characters or locations that clutter the diagram), as well as keeping track of the user’s campaign decisions (e.g., whether someone is a friendly/innocent/minion/what-have-you).

    In any event, I set up a small prototype starting with Pitesti Prison and moving out three degrees (though not including Big Places like Castle Dracula, as they begin to warp the mapping):

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1PI6t31BCsreFNpdFctdThRdlU/view?usp=sharing

    The color coding is based on the type of connection–again, whether someone is a minion/agent/whatever. Still early in development, but fun to play around with.

  3. Christopher says:

    This makes me wish Scapple had a “Notes” feature and any given node could hyperlink to a Note.

    It would be better still if the note itself could have wiki-style linking to other nodes referenced within it (like voodoopad).

    That would be the ultimate GM prep tool. For values of GM that are me.

  4. Simon Brunning says:

    Have you taken a look at Graphviz? It might be good for this kind of job. Here’s an example of using it for another RPG, the Fate based Diaspora:

    http://www.phreeow.net/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=Diaspora%3A+Tools

  5. Roger Gammans says:

    I make quite a lot of use of graphviz for gaming.

    I wrote about how to use to do realtime graphing during brainstorming sessions on my blog ( http://rgammans.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/visualization-of-ideas-during.html )

    There are some really powerful graphviz attribute you can add to nodes and links. A friend of my designed a game with many thousands of skills, which had interdependencies. I managed to use graphviz to not only graph the skills, but put hotlinks to the descriptions and hoover actions for details.

    Graphviz is easy to use for those of a slight nerdish disposation due to
    it neat file format in plain text, but if you not comfortable with plain text it’s going to be a pain point.

    But I think the use of JS browser apps for visualization is way forward for most people. I wrote this – which admittedly still could be improved (https://github.com/rgammans/timeline ) , to help me do consistency checks against a game I was writing.

    I’d encourage people to do a websearch to find visualization tools which meet their own needs in terms of power and ease of use.

  6. frank jones says:

    Absolutely wonderful resource. Is there by chance a similar one for Bight’s Black Agents?

  7. Chris says:

    Hey all,

    I’ve been building a free campaign mapping Web app that integrates relationship mapping with a full campaign framework and various options for character building. The map itself is visualized in d3.js, but there are a lot of ways to look at the campaign. The most fully fleshed out game is based on NBA – Roma Brittanica. Check it out at story-chronicles.herokuapp.com/personas

    Cheers,

    Chris

  8. Jon says:

    Is Scapple the only program that can open this file?

    If not, what free programs exist that can open this document?

    (If none: Can you please export it so it will open in a free program? Or is that not possible?)

    I’m not a dataviz expert, just a GM, and I don’t want to buy $15 software for just one thing.

  9. Ep says:

    The Scapple file doesn’t appear to be linked – it’s just a giant bunch of stacked nodes without any links between them.

    • Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan says:

      It’s intended to help Directors build their own takes on the conspiratorial web, not to present an ‘official’ map.

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