“Behold a great Mystery which I reveal to you without an enigma; this is the secret of the two Mercuries which contain the two tinctures. Keep them separately, and do not confound their species, for fear they should beget a monstrous Lineage.”

— The Six Keys of Eudoxus (date unknown, first known publication 1689)

red_mercuryThe modern conspiracy-tale qua urban legend that is red mercury was born, most likely, in the hothouse world of smuggling and corruption that sustained the Brezhnevite Soviet Union. Although the “orthodox” version of red mercury was a sort of hyper-accelerant for nuclear explosives, or possibly an ultra-catalyst for implosive fusion, a 1993 Pravda exposé on the topic depicted red mercury as also (or alternatively) a key ingredient in Stealth technology or perhaps missile guidance systems. Supposedly a lattice-shaped isomer of mercury antimony oxide (Hg2Sb2O7), enhanced with or somehow containing radioactives (lutetium, or perhaps plutonium) and then bombarded with a particle beam, becomes capable of immense energy storage: “a bullet can sink a battleship, a baseball can destroy a city.” The “red” refers to its color, or its Soviet origin, or abbreviates “redistilled.” Although Samuel T. Cohen (among other things, the co-inventor of the neutron bomb) vouched for its existence, the general consensus is that “red mercury” was invented not as a super-weapon but as a super-scam, a means to separate desperate would-be nuclear nations and terror groups from their slush funds. One particularly recherché theory holds that it was deliberate disinformation jointly concocted by the CIA and KGB as a nonproliferation measure: get nuclear smugglers chasing a myth, and they wouldn’t chase plutonium.

Red mercury had a brief heyday in the early 1990s, when it appeared at the center of at least five murders associated with an Iraqi attempt to buy nuclear material from South Africa. (Fun fact: The South African Defense Forces shell company created to thwart (?) this ring was called “Delta G Scientific.” Really.) Osama bin Laden bought a cylinder of red mercury from a Sudanese general in 1993, for instance. Every year since then, one or two arms dealers, Russian Mafiya entrepreneurs, or needy dictatorships tries to buy red mercury (the going rate was $300,000 per kilo in 1997, up to $1.8 million in 2013) and usually gets scammed, which means someone usually gets dead. Where Iraq and al-Qaeda went in the 1990s, of course, ISIS goes today.

In a zingy read in the New York Times Magazine, C.J. Chivers follows the trail of red mercury through Syrian and Turkish middlemen, illuminating the contemporary form of this modern myth. Chivers re-tells the delightfully wild story from the late 2000s that Soviet engineers (during the “American occupation”) smuggled red mercury out of the country in Singer sewing machines, though doesn’t mention the Egyptian conspiracy tale that red mercury can be obtained by cutting the throats of mummies. The story also gives a few new details that should prick the thumbs of any Night’s Black Agents Director worth her salt. For example, Chivers quotes a smuggler named Safi al-Safi: “The most expensive type [of red mercury] is called Blood of the Slaves, which is the darkest type. Magicians use it to summon jinni.” Another smuggler, Faysal, says that red mercury or “spiritual mercury” can be found “in Roman graves.” And finally, the smugglers’ consensus is that “real red mercury is attracted to gold but repelled by garlic.”

Red Mercury Cylinder

“The most sharp Vinegar is the Red Mercury; but the better to determine these two mercuries, feed them with flesh of their own species — the blood of innocents whose throats are cut.”

— The Six Keys of Eudoxus

Which leads us not to a Thing We Left Out of the Dracula Dossier per se, but rather to one of the many many areas of modern mythology that the Dracula Dossier can comprise. Here, then, broken down as a proper Director’s Handbook Object, is that postmodern philosopher’s stone, Red Mercury.

Appearance

A dull gray cylinder about 30 cm long and 10 cm thick, marked with a radiation symbol. Cyrillic lettering on it reads Obrazets Noly — “Sample Zero.” When opened, it contains about 30 mL of radioactive material resembling thick red ink that flows and separates into drops like liquid mercury. Its density is 20.20 grams per cubic centimeter. Without testing the material, an Agent with Chemistry believes the substance could be mercury antimony oxide.

Supposed History

This is “hot” red mercury, the good stuff, straight from a Russian nuclear weapons lab. It might even be taken from the original 1965 test in the Dubna cyclotron, or just the “calibration batch” (easy to abstract, hard to miss) from a new program spun up under Putin. And there’s more where that came from. Tradecraft provides the information in the above paragraphs, and a 1-point Research spend leads the Agents to the New York Times Magazine story linked above and its intriguing garlic-related information. A 1-point Occult Studies spend leads to the Six Keys of Eudoxus, and to alchemy in general if that helps in your game.

Major Item

This is indeed red mercury, and the secret ingredient is Dracula’s blood, infused with mercury during his own lifetime as an alchemist. The Russian vampire program (DH, p. 76) figured out how to use particle beams to cibate the blood of Dracula into a mercury-antimony matrix (in KWAS: Alchemy terms, this is an Awakened Working of Vermilion + Sulfur), and the amazing effects of red mercury all follow from that:

  • Immense Explosive Power: The demonic strength of Dracula infuses red mercury: a Class 3 explosive requires only 3 g; a Class 4 explosive only 6 g; a Class 5 explosive only 12 g. Hand-loading red mercury into hollow-point rounds (~1 g per bullet) either increases bullet damage by +3 (and makes the bullet a bane to all lesser vampires) or (unmodified roll of 1) blows the gun up in your hand when fired (Class 2 explosion, +4 damage in debris range). Using red mercury requires a Difficulty 7 Explosive Devices test.
  • Chemical Weapon: A drop of red mercury added to chlorine creates a deadly cloud of vapor: if inhaled or exposed to an open wound, treat as injected tetrodotoxin (DH, p. 87). Garlic oil acts as an antidote.
  • Lifebane Bomb: Samuel Cohen believed that the Soviets built dozens of baseball-sized red mercury “neutron bombs” that required no fissile material to fuse their core of heavy water. With 150 g of red mercury (and either a very detailed schematic or a 2-point Physics spend), an explosives expert can make a lifebane bomb that acts as a Class 6 explosive. Dracula can command those killed by this bomb. Those protected from vampires (surrounded by garlic, inside holy ground, etc.) within the debris range are immune to the bomb.
  • Stealth Sheathing: Atomized and used to paint a surface, red mercury renders it invisible to all imagery, just like Dracula! Any vampire is at -4 Difficulty to track anything coated with red mercury. High-tech automotive paint requires about 15 g per square meter, but a Chemistry spend might reduce that even further.
  • Missile Targeting: Dracula’s blood knows its own. The user must separate one drop of red mercury into two drops. A missile, artillery shell, or anything else in free flight homes in on a drop of red mercury if the missile has the matching drop inside it. Vampiric Blocks that affect Dracula block the targeting signal.
  • Summoning Demons or Djinn: Dracula’s demonic pact connects his blood to Hell. Burning red mercury in the correct sigil (2-point Occult Studies spend, at least, plus an incantation from Le Dragon Noir (DH, p. 273)) summons a demon or djinn. Every gram of red mercury burnt equals 1 point of Aberrance or Hand-to-Hand the demon or djinn possesses; its damage equals +1 per 1o points in Hand-to-Hand, its Health equals its Aberrance. It has the same banes, weaknesses, etc. as Dracula. Dracula can command it.
  • Key to Further Dracula Research: Reverse-analyzing the substance provides clues to Dracula’s powers, to the Soviet vampire program, and likely to plenty of other big campaign questions.

The blood of Lilith (DH, p. 69) or Queen Tera (DH, p. 71) might also be the active ingredient in red mercury. Or the Director could vary the effects of the red mercury depending on the donor vampire. “Telluric” red mercury has the same effects, mostly explained by the conversion of telluric bacteria to telluric mutant bacteria by Russian radiation.

Minor Item

This is indeed red mercury, but it only has one of the powers above, as well as being a key to further Dracula research. Unlike the red mercury above, it’s also highly radioactive: treat exposure as anthrax (NBA, p. 81) except the victim only heals half her lost Health after treatment. Her Health rating lowers to the new level, from which she can rebuild using experience points.

Fraudulent

This is one of the many types of phony red mercury floating around the arms-trader underground: liquefied cinnabar (mercury sulfide), “red oil” (tri-n-butyl phosphate, highly exothermic), waste metallic nuclear coolant, mercury tinted with cochineal or lipstick, depleted uranium powder in an oil suspension, chloride of mercury, mercuric iodide, mercuric oxide, or mercuric cyanate (also highly explosive and flammable).

Connections

Al-Qaeda in Rûm (DH, p. 148) wants red mercury very much, and the Romanian mafia (DH, p. 157) might well be dealing it, perhaps through the Arms Runner (DH, p. 102) or the Syrian General (DH, p. 133). The SRI (DH, p. 156) may have seized a sample from which more could be traced, as might the Slovakian Border and Alien Police (DH, p. 164). The Retired KGB Agent (DH, p. 97) might know about the original experiments, and the Seismologist (DH, p. 100) might be obsessed with replicating them. Red mercury might power the Earthquake Device (DH, p. 266) or the Radu weapon (DH, p. 276). If authentic, Edom would very much kill to get this cylinder, and Pearl (DH, p. 52) may well run one or both parties to the transaction. Edom might have set up this transaction even if the cylinder is fraudulent, as a means of drawing out shadowy players in the vampire-alchemical underground.

HandofGlory“Look! It burns clear, but with the air around,
Its dead ingredients mingle deathliness.”

— Robert Southey, Thalaba the Destroyer, a.k.a. “The Other Other Romantic Vampire Poem, You Know, The One That Gets No Respect”

From Gerard de Nerval to Harry Potter to the pub-rockin’ Smithereens, the Hand of Glory knocks so sneakily at our culture that of course I had to let it in. Also, unkind and waspish sorts might suggest that this is yet another Thing We Left Out of the Dracula Dossier, when in fact it is of course great fun for all games of horror and creeperie but yes okay fine there’s a Hand of Glory in the Whitby Museum (DH, p. 177) so it might indeed be handy to have written up as a Director’s Handbook-style Object. But you can also use it in a properly occult Trail of Cthulhu game — the Minor Artifact version below fits right into the skeevy world of Bookhounds of London, for instance. And since it began as a cool-sounding mistranslation, it’s clearly ready for the Esoterrorists, to boot.

Quick Esoterroristic Diversion: Early modern magicians, caught in a game of one-upmanship with competing rogues and cunning-men, had to deploy ever more outré magicks to keep their clients happy. Digging through a grimoire one day (probably) in the mid-16th century, such a warlock stumbled over the Greek word mandragora, meaning mandrake-root, which brings sleep (because it’s actually the same thing as opium poppies) and grows beneath the gallows (because eww, which is to say, cool) and shines at night (see opium poppies, supra). He transliterated it into his native French as main-de-gloire, or “hand of glory.” Since that’s obviously not the same thing as a root, it had to be something else: the hand of a hanged murderer (gallows!) that you burn like a candle (shines!) to put people in a house to sleep (!) to rob them. And once warlocks started offering such things for sale, inquisitors started asking witches about them under torture and hey presto genuine occult legend is born. So thus in our early postmodern era, an eager-adopter Esoterrorist with only broken English reads about the Hand of Glory on the Internet. He (it’s always a he) decides it’s actually Hangloria, the possessed demon hand of someone who dies of autoerotic asphyxiation that glows like a computer monitor and puts your chosen stalker target into a trance. And then he tells all his Esoterrorist creepster buddies and sure enough Hanglorias come crawling out of closets all over Bangkok and Macao and Sochi.

Okay, now back to the Hand of Glory in the Whitby Museum.

Hand of Glory

Appearance: Blackish-gray mummified human right hand. Forensic Pathology types it as severed after death, likely from a working-class man given the degree and type of bone deformation and callusing. Occult Studies might twig to the weirdness of a right hand being used as a Hand of Glory when traditionally the left, or sinister, hand was preferred. Of course, other traditions considered the handedness of the hanged murderer more important: the right hand of a dextral killer would be the “murder hand,” and thus more imbued with occult evil.

Supposed History: Research can trace this Hand of Glory back to 1935, when one Joseph Ford donated it to the Whitby Museum. Ford, a local antiquary, supposedly found it inside the wall of a cottage in Castleton in Yorkshire while repairing the stonework. More generally, a Hand of Glory (Occult Studies) is a magical thieves’ tool. Cut from the wrist of a hanged murderer (or thief, ideally at midnight in total silence) the hand is pickled with niter, salt, peppers, lime or borax, and an ingredient called zimat (possibly verdigris or iron sulfate) then sun-dried or oven-dried with vervain and fern. In some traditions, the Hand is potent enough now; in others you need a candle made from the fat of a hanged man, wax, and ponie (possibly one or all of: soap, horse dung, or sesame) to activate its magic. If you have the correct ingredients and a workable recipe, you can make a Hand of Glory in 28 days (17 if making the Hand during the dog-days of July-August) and a Candle in the night of the new moon. (2-point spend for all the ingredients, etc.)

Major Artifact: When the fingers of the Hand close around the Candle and the Candle is lit, the Hand has the following powers:

  • Any locked door, gate, portal, safe, etc. in the Candle light unlocks itself when the wielder spends 1 point (or 2 points for clearly impossible or advanced locks) of Stability.
  • When the wielder utters an incantation (usually given as “Let all those who are asleep be asleep, and let those who are awake be awake.”) everyone asleep in the building remains completely asleep regardless of noise or even attack. A Hand more suited to the world of 24-hour security might force a Difficulty 8 Stability (or Athletics) test to remain awake, or at least allow a +3 bonus to all surprise tests against those inside.
  • The Candle flares up blue in the presence of secret doors, buried treasure, etc. and its light reveals the invisible, including vampires. Vampires with Magic or Necromancy may of course be able to animate or otherwise control the Hand.

Seeing a Hand of Glory work inspires a 3-point Stability test in all witnesses, including the thieves. The Hand must be held in the wielder’s hand to activate the first two powers, although it can be set down upright and continue keeping sleepers somnolent, revealing the invisible, etc.

The Candle burns for 4-6 hours, and can only be extinguished by blood; the Hand lasts until destroyed.

Minor Artifact: To use the Hand, soak the fingertips in unguent or lighter fluid and light it up. When lit, the Hand has the following powers, depending on the number of Fingers (F; fingers including the thumb) it has remaining:

  • Adds +F to all the wielder’s tests of Mechanics, Infiltration, etc. to open a lock or door. Grants the Open Sesame cherry (NBA, p. 31) regardless of wielder’s Infiltration rating. (In Trail of Cthulhu, grants +F points of Locksmith.) The exception: doors warded with owls’ blood.
  • After the wielder utters the incantation, those asleep in the house remain asleep unless attacked. If someone is awake in the house, one finger goes out for each wakeful person. This does not diminish F unless the Director is feeling cruel.
  • Adds +F to the wielder’s (or anyone else watching) tests of Sense Trouble, Conceal, etc. for the purpose of finding hidden treasure, secret doors, the invisible, etc. Counteracts invisibility, e.g.: an invisible vampire adds +6 to the Hit Threshold to shoot her, but with a three-fingered Hand burning, that advantage is down to +3 to Hit Threshold.

Seeing a Hand of Glory work inspires a 3-point Stability test in all witnesses, including the thieves. The Hand must be held in the wielder’s hand to activate the first two powers, although it can be set down upright and continue keeping sleepers somnolent, revealing the invisible, etc.

The Hand burns for 30 minutes per Finger remaining on the Hand, including itself. So a Hand down to one Finger burns for 30 minutes. It can be extinguished by milk or blood; when it goes out it cannot be relit. After each use, one Finger no longer lights, so each Hand has only five uses.

Telluric Artifact: The Hand must be cut from the body of someone infected by the telluric bacteria, like a vampire. (Using the hand of a Renfield is only half as effective; use half F rounded up.)  The pickling, drying, etc. feeds the bacteria while (partially) shielding the wielder from infection. Until you light the Hand and inhale activated bacterial ash, of course. Its powers are the same as the Minor Artifact version, with a few tweaks:

  • The bacteria heighten the wielder’s hand-eye coordination and senses of touch and hearing, improving lockpicking, etc. tests by +F but also similar abilities such as Explosive Devices at the Director’s discretion.
  • The carbonized bacterial-zimat cloud puts everyone who inhales it to sleep except the quasi-infected wielder. If she has friends, they need gas masks or the equivalent to avoid the Difficulty 4+F Health test to stay awake in the same room as a burning Hand.
  • The bacteria also heighten the wielder’s predatory pattern-matching skills and awareness, adding +F to her Sense Trouble, Conceal, etc., and counteracting invisible (including tellurically invisible) targets as a Minor Artifact. Add F points of Notice to the wielder’s pool.
  • The bacteria also imbue the wielder with a rush of self-confidence bordering on the sociopathic. He must make an F-point Stability test to withdraw from the room, avoid touching the valuables, or generally not act like he owns the place.

Using a Hand of Glory requires an immediate 4-point Stability test.

It can be extinguished by anything that might normally put out a fire except milk or blood (or other high-protein or iron-rich fluids), which feed the bacteria and increase its effect on the wielder. (Wielder can now spend Health or Stability on any test improved by the Hand; the Stability test to resist its predator confidence is now Difficulty 4+F and costs F+2 Stability if failed.)

Fraudulent: The hand may have been mummified by actual thieves, or by a homeowner superstitiously trying to guard his cottage from thieves, or by a local antiquary who wanted his name in the paper, but it doesn’t have magic powers.

Connections: The formula for a true Hand of Glory might appear in Le Dragon Noir (DH, p. 273), or in another grimoire owned or coveted by the Bookseller (DH, p. 106). A true Hand makes an ideal target (or resource) for the Caldwell Foundation (DH, p. 160), Extraordinary Objects Department (DH, p. 161), or for the Psychic (DH, p. 96), Enigmatic Monsignor (DH, p. 114), or Online Mystic (DH, p. 126). As an early modern magician, Elizabeth Báthory (DH, p. 63) or her assets (DH, p. 135) may make use of the things. If the Sniper (DH, p. 131) has one, that could explain her ability to come and go from her hits; if Edom has one, it’s part of Pearl’s (DH, p. 52) kit. If Edom uses Minor Artifact Hands as standard field issue, that might put an intriguing spin on the origin of the term Lamplighter (DH, p. 123). In the latter case, if Pearl doesn’t keep tight hold of the stock, a Hand may turn up at Carfax (DH, p. 185) or buried inside the wall at the thieves’ target Coldfall House (DH, p. 188).

 

It’s time once again for another installment of Things We Left Out of The Dracula Dossier, our popular series of posts not so much cataloguing our mental lapses as offering you, our beloved gamer audience, more free content for your own Dracula Dossier games! (Available for pre-order now!)

ring_of_dracula

In this particular case, I was inspired by something that keeps appearing in the (vast quantity of) Dracula movies I’m watching right now while posting 31 Nights of Dractober and writing The Thrill of Dracula: Dracula’s ring. It first makes an appearance in Son of Dracula (1943) but first plays a major role in the plot in The House of Frankenstein (1944), where John Carradine’s Dracula uses it to mesmerize the fetching Rita and connect her to him in some nebulous fashion. (Dracula’s Daughter (1936) also features a hypnotic ring very similar in appearance to Carradine’s.) Carradine wore it again in House of Dracula (1945) and it finally made its way to Bela Lugosi’s finger in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Lugosi kept the prop and later gave it to superfan Forrest Ackerman, who (of course) made and sold collectible versions of it. He sent one of those copies to Christopher Lee, who wore it in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) and afterward. Lee’s Dracula wore a (different) signet ring in the previous two Dracula films, and the Ring has become such an icon that a whole Danish 1978 TV miniseries (sadly not available any more) called Draculas Ring focused on it.

So here it is, written up as a Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook style encounter.

Object: The Ring of Dracula

Appearance: A man’s silver finger ring with a blood-red ruby set into it, bearing the crest of Dracula (DH, p. 54) in worked silver filigree. Lengthy heraldic research (1-point History or 2-point Research spend each month for three months, or per archive in two separate major heraldic archives) can uncover Dracula’s original identity in life from the crest, or at least discover the crest’s origin. The design and workmanship are 15th-century German. Forgery or a 1-point spend of Chemistry unmasks the “silver” as paktong or “nickel silver,” a Chinese silver-like alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc.

Supposed History: This was the signet ring of Dracula in life, and imbued with its wearer’s life force — and afterward, with the force of his Un-Death. The fact that an aristocratic signet ring is not real silver is, ironically, evidence for its authenticity — surely Dracula would not seek out the touch of silver to his flesh! Vampirology reminds us that Dracula has no particular allergy to silver, but a 15th-century alchemist like Dracula might well have prized the comparatively rare paktong — or created his own similar alloy with its own properties.

Major Item: This is the ring of Dracula, alchemically created by him from earths dug from his native soil, the ruby formed from his very blood. It cannot be destroyed by any known process short of nuclear fission or throwing it into an active volcano. Its powers vary depending on its wearer.

If Dracula wears it:

  • It contains a pool of 13 extra Aberrance points, which he can spend at will; they refresh at sundown.
  • It increases the Difficulty of resistance to Dracula’s Mesmerism by +4 if the target is looking at it. Dracula can create and direct the visions beheld in it by the target.
  • It provides Cloud Men’s Minds as a free power (Difficulty 10 Stability test to penetrate).
  • It doubles the effect of a Red Room (DH, p. 187).
  • It automatically places any vampire or Renfield who beholds it under Dracula’s command.

If another vampire wears it:

  • As Dracula, but half: 6 extra Aberrance, +2 Difficulty to resist Mesmerism, Cloud Men’s Minds as a 2 Aberrance point power (Difficulty 6 Stability test to penetrate).
  • Dracula can see or hear through their senses at all times. Likewise, that vampire can sense the direction and rough distance to Dracula.
  • If Dracula created or sired the wearer, Dracula can command the wearer telepathically.

If a human wears it:

  • It grants the power of Mesmerism, with a rating equal to 5 + the wearer’s Hypnosis ability. Using Mesmerism always requires a 2-point spend.
  • If the human takes Seward Serum, it increases the General point bonus to 17, not 12.
  • It increases the effect of a Red Room: attempts to locate Dracula are at -7, sweats Renfields in 6 hours, provides 25 points to a Jack, lowers magic Difficulties by -4 (DH, p. 187).
  • Dracula can see or hear through their senses at all times; their Difficulty to resist him increases by +4. Likewise, they can sense the direction and very rough distance (here/close/far/far away) to Dracula. Alternately, a psychically gifted human (or one with Dowsing as a paranormal ability; NBA, p. 196) can use the ring as a pendulum to find Dracula’s location on a map (like the one on the Spirit Board; DH, p. 279); it lowers the Difficulty for Remote Viewing (NBA, p. 197) of Dracula by -4.

If it’s been stolen, Dracula will move heaven and earth, and kill any number of interfering mortals, to return it to his finger. So … great way to lure him into an ambush, amirite?

Minor Item: This is the ring of Dracula, or one of them at any rate. All members of the Conspiracy recognize it and will (absent other conditions like being attacked) obey its wearer with an Intimidation spend … until word gets out that a signet ring has gone missing somehow. Worn by Dracula, it increases the Difficulty to resist his Mesmerism by +2.

If stolen, Dracula wants it back, badly enough to give the thief his personal sadistic attention or to send a pack of ghouls after it, but not badly enough to do something foolish.

Fraudulent: This is a movie prop. A 2-point Forgery spend can fake up a provenance (either as a collectible or as a supposed antique) that makes it worth $20,000 or so to the right buyer. Offering it at Sotheby’s (DH, p. 198) might still be an interesting way to ping the Conspiracy network (or Edom) and see who answers.

Connections: If it’s not on Dracula’s finger, it might be buried near his Tomb (DH, p. 308) or gathering dust in his Castle (DH, p. 207). Perhaps Van Helsing or Lord Godalming picked it out of Dracula’s ashes in 1894 and a Legacy has it now. If Edom managed to find it then, or in Romania in 1940, it’s kept in a tin-silver-and-aluminium-lined, magnetically and electrically inert, cross-incised rosewood box at Ring (DH, p. 172) or Seward’s Asylum (DH, p. 195). Only during an ongoing tactical operation requiring it does Edom move it to Carfax (DH, p. 185); intercepting that shipment would make a fine operation for the Agents. Or perhaps Van Sloan (DH, p. 87) kept it himself, and it keeps him alive … for just a small cost in blood. (Edom might also have kept the Minor Item signet ring Dracula sent to Hawkins in 1893, or it might be somewhere in Hawkins’ house in Exeter (DH, p. 167).) The Romanian government might have confiscated it in 1946; perhaps it’s in a Museum (DH, p. 215) or a deep SRI warehouse beneath Pitesti Prison (DH, p. 218). The Medievalist (DH, p. 122), Art Forecaster (DH, p. 103), and Bookseller (DH, p. 106) all covet it and could produce surprising sums to purchase it, as of course would the Extraordinary Objects Department (DH, p. 161) or the Caldwell Foundation (DH, p. 160); a sketch of it might appear in John Dee’s Journal (DH, p. 270).

Wherever it turns up, does it want to return to its Master? If only there were some sprawling epic about a Ring of Power and a Dark Lord to model that story line on, ideally one connected somehow to Christopher Lee …

EF cover_350The upcoming Edom Files, yet another part of the I-can-justifiably-use-the-word-epic-at-this-point epic Dracula Dossier series, is an anthology of eight missions, ranging from 1877’s Stoker: First Blood to the present-day Harker Intrusion . These missions can be used as one-shots with or without reference to the larger Dossier series, or as Flashbacks within a regular Dossier campaign, or – for the truly heroic – as part of a century-spanning Unto the Fourth Generation or Fields of Edom game.

One of the nice things about having an anthology of historical scenarios in a game about immortal monsters is that you can play with horrors in the past and reasonably expect them to survive into the present, making those historical missions more than just backstory.  If Edom fails to kill Carmilla in 1948, during The Carmilla Sanction, then she’s still around in 2016 to menace your Agents. That hellish mountain lair in First Blood is still there in the present day. For each scenario, we’ve included an encounter – a person, place, object, node or ravening monster – that might survive into a contemporary campaign.

In fact, due to a slight miscommunication, we nearly included two for the Carmilla Sanction. Ken’s NPC works better in the book for sinister plot purposes, so here, rescued from the cutting room floor, is another encounter tied to that mission.

Object: The Vordenburg Diary

Appearance: A handwritten manuscript from the late 17th century, written in a mix of Latin and German, that describes the occult research of a Baron Vordenburg, who was troubled by vampires when living in Moravia (present-day eastern Czech republic).

Supposed History: Baron Vordenburg – the younger baron, the one who shows up in Carmilla – described how his ancestor was a lover of Countess Karnstein, and when she became a vampire, he studied the curse and resolved to leave notes on how to find her tomb and destroy her when she rose again. The Baron’s notes may have been part of the bundle of papers in the possession of Le Fanu when he wrote his novel; Carmilla may have removed them to her new fortress, where they fell into the hands of Edom or the occupying Russian forces.

Major Item: The book contains detailed observations on vampire physiology by Vordenburg – observations that can only be the result of extensive experimentation on captured subjects. It discusses methods of dispatch, feeding cycles, the relationship between the vampire and its tomb, and lists several vampiric creatures destroyed by the Baron. For good measure, the Baron has also transcribed key sections of other texts (like Le Dragon Noir, DH p. 273, and reading it gives a 6-point pool that can be spent on Vampirology, Diagnosis or Occult Studies – or on general ability tests when fighting a vampire. Close reading with History also turns up links to other vampire hunters (possibly the Vatican, the Hospital of St. Joseph & Ste. Mary, DH p. 230, or the Fortified Monastery of St. Peter, DH p. 144).

One small downside – the book was written after Carmilla implanted post-hypnotic suggestions in the Baron’s mind and blood, and reading the original diary (but not a copy or scan) exposes the reader to the vampire’s influence. Call for a Difficulty 6 Stability test on reading the book; failing doesn’t cost the reader any Stability, but opens up a psychic connection. Cue dreams, nocturnal visitations, and an obsession with anagrams. If Carmilla’s still active, then she starts targeting the reader as her next victim. If she was destroyed, then she possesses the reader (if female and of a suitable age) or someone close at hand (a Solace, maybe), slowly conditioning her victim to seek out another vampire and return Carmilla to un-death in a new body. Diagnosis spots the signs of possession.

Minor Item: As above, but the Baron’s notes aren’t half so comprehensive, and there’s a lot more extraneous material about lesbianism. A cruel Director might make the notes on vampirism actively misleading or dangerous – maybe Carmilla deliberately had Vordenburg write the diary as misinformation, and it points towards some location or relic that Carmilla desires. A Vampirology spend spots the errors; if the players don’t make a spend, then give them a clue pointing to a trap laid by Carmilla.

Fraudulent: It’s a fake, written by Carmilla herself in the 1930s. The book contains no useful information, but it’s still got the hypnotic curse. She wrote it as a trap for Edom; optionally, it might be the key to the 1977 mole hunt, and the mole is some woman possessed by the spirit of Carmilla. Check out the library file on the book with Research to find out who read it last, and hence determine who’s secretly Carmilla – maybe the Balkans Specialist (DH p. 91) or the Sculptor (DH p. 100) or Lucy Blythe (DH p. 41). Perhaps there are several psychic doubles of Carmilla running around.

Connections: Doubtless Van Helsing (DH p. 31) and the Hungarian’s grandfather (DH p. 94) were contacts of one Vordenberg or another. The Former Gehlen Org (DH p. 82) might know what became of any Vordenberg Legacies that are still alive.

 

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.

 

“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_by_night

Varna

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.

Population

365,000 (about the size of Tampa), swells to 600,000 during summer vacation season (much like Tampa).

Conflict

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.

Backdrops

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.

Three Hooks

  • In March 2015, Dr. Valeri Yotov of the Varna Archaeological Museum excavated a “giant skeleton” buried under the Roman fortress wall of Odessus, dating to the late 4th or early 5th century CE. This ongoing excavation began near the St. Nikolay Church when workers rehabilitating the sewer system uncovered an ancient Greek pot (5th century BCE). The dig along the Odessus wall expanded into the Varna Hole, a pit dug in 1984 for the excavation of a department store but abandoned in 1989, and now used for parking.
  • In 1992, a group of karate enthusiasts from the elite “Tihina” Division of the Bulgarian marines founded the TIM Group, beginning as a “security company” doing debt recovery for Bulgarian banks, and rapidly expanding into (according to the US State Department) smuggling, auto theft, prostitution, gambling, and narcotics. Since then, TIM has expanded into a maze of secretive holding companies controlling grain, airlines, fishing, oil refineries, and (according to many) Varna’s mayor and politics.
  • At the western end of Lake Varna, the industrial city of Devnya is home to a tradition of vampire slayers recorded in 1888 by the Czech historian and diplomat Constantin Jirecek. These vampirdzhiya, or dzhadzhiya (who were dhampirs and often valkodlatsi or werewolves as well), carried icons through graveyards, sheepfolds, and other suspicious locations, waiting for the image to tremble. Then, they would either dig up the vampire (if material) and stake it with hawthorn and burn it, or (if in spirit form) seal it into a bottle which could be burned at leisure.

In Bram Stoker’s original Notes for Dracula, we find the following cryptic line:

Lawyer – (Sortes Virgilianae) conveyance of body

Stoker originally thought perhaps the “lawyer” character Peter Hawkins, mostly written out of the book, would perform the sortes Virgilianae, literally the “Virgilian lots,” to find out how his new client would work out. Both pagan Romans (who thought poets divinely inspired) and medieval and early modern Christians (who found a prophecy of Jesus in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue) considered Virgil a prophet. The sortes Virgilianae thus refers to a form of bibliomancy in which the querent randomly opens a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid (or sometimes the complete works of Virgil) to receive prophetic guidance on some venture.

Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*
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.

Hawkins’ Aeneid

Appearance: An copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, in Latin and Dryden’s English translation, on facing pages, with numbered lines. Octavo, bound in pale yellow buckram, published by “Faelix Press, London, 1864.” It gives every appearance of heavy use; many pages are marked with pinpricks or brownish ink checks. It is autographed on the frontispiece, “From C. to ‘Mr. P.H., the onlie begetter.’”

Supposed History: This was the copy of the Aeneid used by Peter Hawkins to cast the sortes Virgilianae during the 1894 operation. Art History suggests the inscription is a literary joke, after the dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to “Mr. W.H., the onlie begetter.” The inscription implies that “P.H.” created Edom, and hints that his real initials are W.H. “C.” might be “Cyprian” Bridge, Director of Naval Intelligence, or the not yet officially on the clandestine books Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming, or someone else entirely.

Major Item: The book allows the accurate casting of sortes Virgilianae, with a proper knife (the Jeweled Dagger (p. XX) or something from the Knife Set (p. XX) perhaps). Riffling through the book and striking a page at random reveals a line or two of Virgil that provide prophetic insight or warning into (usually) the next session’s events. (This lets the Director think a little about how best to work the prophecy in.) During that session, each forewarned agent gains 1 pool point that can be assigned retroactively to either Sense Trouble or Preparedness.

Minor Item: This is indeed Hawkins’ desk copy of Virgil, but it only provides possible leads to Hawkins’ identity or that of his mysterious supervisors in the murky prehistory of British intelligence. Whether either clue points to the current “D” or anywhere else in Edom is up to the Director.

Fraudulent: It’s an authentic 1864 edition of Virgil, but has no connection to Hawkins or to Edom.

Connections: Could turn up in the library at Ring (p. XX) or the Korea Club (p. XX), in the Exeter house (p. XX), or if meant as a clue to the real “Hawkins,” on a dead GMC, with his finger pointing to lines 870-871 of Book II:

“Make haste to save the poor remaining crew,
And give this useless corpse a long adieu.”

In The Dracula Dossier, one of my favorite campaign frames — inserted at Simon’s insistence, and written mostly by Gareth — is “Unto the Fourth Generation,” in which you play the whole saga of Operation Edom from 1894 to 1940 to 1977 to now. That’s right, you begin as the original 1894 heroic band — the cast of Dracula. 

It looks like Mina has found some sort of dossier.

 

Sadly, space considerations prevent us from inserting full-on character sheets for the original 1894 band into the Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook. (It’s a quarter of a million words long, people.) But perhaps we’ll mock up some lovely Victorian Night’s Black Agents character sheets and put the following pre-gen stats into them as a freebie PDF for backers and buyers. Until then, here are the numbers raw, as Van Helsing might say.

N.B: These builds use the Victorian agent builds from Double Tap. They also feature 20 Investigative points per character (assuming a party of 5 or more agents) and 60 General build points per character (assuming mostly civilians, not yet trained badass vampire hunters). For the same reason, these pre-gens don’t receive free points in Streetwise, Tradecraft, Network, or Cover. They show “float points,” indicating build points unassigned at the start: assign those as you need them in play. Each character gets a dramatic 3 rating in their individual specialty; some character abilities are a tiny stretch (Mina’s skill at shorthand probably wouldn’t really convey Cryptography ability) in order to make sure all the abilities are covered.

 

Jonathan Harker, Solicitor and Free-Climber

Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (German, Latin), Law 3, Research 1, Bullshit Detector 1, Bureaucracy 1, Middle Class 2, Interrogation 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (4 Investigative float points)

Athletics 8, Conceal 4, Driving 1, Health 6, Infiltration 2, Network 7, Riding 1, Sense Trouble 5, Stability 6, Weapons 5 (23 General float points)

 

Wilhelmina Murray, Instinctive Analyst with a Tasty Neck

Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 2, Below Stairs 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Cryptography 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 3, Notice 1, Traffic Analysis 2 (2 Investigative float points)

Athletics 5, Health 7, Medic 2, Network 8, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 8, Shrink 5, Stability 8, Surveillance 3 (16 General float points)

 

Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Polymathic Vampire Slayer

Art History 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 2, Human Terrain 1, Languages 3 (English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latin), Law 1, Occult Studies 1, Research 1, Vampirology 3, Bullshit Detector 1, Middle Class 1, Astronomy 1, Forensic Pathology 1, Geology 1, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1 (0 Investigative float points)

Athletics 4, Driving 1, Health 4, Hypnosis 8, Infiltration 4, Mechanics 2, Medic 8, Network 10, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 6, Shrink 4, Stability 4, Weapons 4 (3 General float points)

 

Dr. Jack Seward, Mad Doctor and Fifth Wheel

Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 3, Languages 1 (Latin), Research 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Flirting 0, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forensic Pathology 2, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)

Athletics 6, Driving 1, Hand-to-Hand 5, Health 8, Infiltration 2, Mechanics 3, Medic 8, Network 5, Shrink 10, Stability 5, Weapons 4 (10 General float points)

 

The Hon. Arthur Holmwood, Wealthy Aristocrat and Steam-Engine Enthusiast

Architecture 1, Art History 1, History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 2 (French, Greek, Latin), Military Science 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 2, High Society 3, Intimidation 2, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (1 Investigative float point)

Athletics 5, Driving 2, Gambling 3, Hand-to-Hand 5, Health 5, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Network 9, Piloting 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 4, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 6, Stability 5, Surveillance 3, Weapons 5 (0 General float points)

 

Quincey Morris, Texan Adventurer Who Brings Both a Gun and a Knife to a Knife-Fight

Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (Spanish), Military Science 2, Bullshit Detector 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Intimidation 1, Middle Class 2, Reassurance 1, Tradecraft 1, Geology 1, Notice 2, Outdoor Survival 3 (1 Investigative float point)

Athletics 8, Driving 2, Explosive Devices 2, Gambling 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Medic 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 5, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 8, Stability 5, Surveillance 4, Weapons 6 (0 General float points)

 

Kate Reed, Girl Reporter Not Appearing in this Novel

Accounting 1, Art History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 3, Bullshit Detector 3, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Interrogation 1, Middle Class 1, Notice 2, Telegraphy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)

Athletics 5, Conceal 3, Cover 4, Disguise 4, Driving 2, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Network 7, Preparedness 4, Riding 2, Sense Trouble 6, Stability 7, Surveillance 8 (9 General float points)

 

Inspector George Cotford, Deleted Detective of Scotland Yard

Criminology 2, Human Terrain 1, Law 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Cop Talk 3, Interrogation 3, Intimidation 2, Middle Class 1, Streetwise 2, Working Class 1, Notice 2, Urban Survival 1 (0 Investigative float points)

Athletics 6, Conceal 4, Driving 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 7, Preparedness 4, Sense Trouble 8, Shooting 4, Stability 8, Surveillance 6, Weapons 6 (9 General float points)

 

Francis Aytown, Sensitive Artist Airbrushed Out of the Picture

Archaeology 1, Art History 3, Languages 2 (French, German, Italian), Bullshit Detector 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Streetwise 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forgery 2, Photography 2 (2 Investigative float points)

Art (Painting) 8, Athletics 5, Conceal 5, Disguise 6, Explosive Devices 2, Filch 2, Health 5, Mechanics 4, Network 5, Sense Trouble 8, Stability 5 (12 General float points)

Double Tap introduced the concept of video-game-style Achievements into Night’s Black Agents (Will Plant’s original is here, but Double Tap‘s list is bigger, better and has more bonuses for blowing things up.) As the Dracula Dossier consumes my every waking hour, and I start to see connections to the Mas… to Dracula everywhere, here’s a list of custom achievements for the upcoming campaign. As per the rules in Double Tap, the first player to qualify for an achievement gets a 3-point General Ability refresh on the spot.

I Am Dazzle, Dazzle With So Much Light: Read the entire Unredacted Dracula and all the annotations, and pick your next avenue of investigation from it.

Blood of my Blood: Identify a Legacy.

The Fighting Hellfish: Have a shootout in a retirement home.

Right At The Top Of The Circus: Infiltrate the SIS headquarters.

Epistolary Format: Communicate with another player character by letter, email or voicemail.

Victorian Technothriller: Use a photographic-plate camera or wax-cylinder phonograph to record vital information.

Done The Reading: Force an NPC to tell them what they know by leveraging information gleaned from the annotations.

Dr. Van Helsing, I presume: Find documents left by the original hunters.

Native Soil: Locate Dracula’s castle successfully (not as easy as it sounds…)

London’s Burning: Gain 6 or more Heat in a single session in London.

The Boxmen: Destroy one of Dracula’s boxes of earth.

Those You Love Are Mine: Rescue a contact or Solace from Dracula’s evil embrace.

Unclean, Unclean: Get bitten by Dracula or one of his Brides.

Was That Your Best Shot? Survive level 6 of the Edom Vampyramid.

Consequence To Make The Brave Shudder: Survive Level 6 of Dracula’s Vampyramid

It Was Worth It For This To Die! Die fighting Dracula himself.

For The Dead Travel Fast: Complete the campaign in six sessions or less.

The Longest Night: Start playing the Dracula Dossier. Find any of the connections to the Zalozhniy Quartet, follow that connection, play through the four adventures of the Quartet, foil the conspiracy there, then finally complete the Dracula Dossier campaign.

We’ve got a few more achievements, but they’re for Directors’ eyes only. Enter these semi-spoilers freely and of your own will.