The Plain People of Gaming: Prompts for Dracula NPCs

Director's Handbook_front_cover_350The macro level of a Dracula Dossier campaign emerges from the Conspyramid and Vampyramid charts, as well as the instructions in the opening section, How To Use This Book. Those charts are the framework for your story – as in any Night’s Black Agents game, the aim is to shoot your way up that Conspyramid, level by level, while dodging the antagonist reactions dictated by the matching level on the Vampyramid. Each conspiracy node points to another, and another, until everything closes in on Dracula. So, the players identify a Conspiracy node, or NPC, or location. That gets slotted into the Director’s Conspyramid on an empty slot at an appropriate Level (either the lowest available slot, or one connected to the previous node that gave the clue pointing to this one). They investigate that node, beat it up until another clue falls out, and follow that clue to the next node. Drop in an available Vampyramid response whenever the Conspiracy gets annoyed, and repeat until Dracula drops dead. Again.

Individual scenes require a little more improvisation. The first step – once the players have decided what clue they’re following up on, either from Dracula Unredacted or a previous scene – is to flip to the appropriate writeup in the Director’s Handbook and decide which variant to use. Is this NPC an Innocent, a spy agency Asset, or a Minion of Dracula? Is this location Hot or Cold?

As a rule of thumb, go for more innocents and red herrings early in the campaign, go for more Assets in England or when they’re closing in on Edom, and go for more Minions in the latter stages of the campaign or when in Romania. You could even mechanise if you were so inclined.

Roll

1-3: Innocent/Cold

4-5: Asset/Hot

6+: Minion/Hot

+1 if the PCs are following a strong lead

+1 if it’s the middle of the campaign/+2 if its the endgame

Each writeup lists one or more abilities that gets a clue, and that clue points to another NPC/Node/Object/Location. Use that structure as the spine, around which you improvise a scene.

For example, if the PCs are investigating the MI5 Deputy (DH p. 95). The Director decides that the Deputy is still an active Edom Asset; the listed abilities there are Diagnosis and Tradecraft (as well as Notice and Research, but those are for going the other way, pointing the players towards appropriate entries in Dracula Unredacted). Diagnosis sounds fun – maybe the Agents have to sneak into a hospital and question the Deputy while he’s undergoing an MRI scan. A fight scene around a giant magnet could be interesting if, say, a Conspiracy minion shows up…

If inspiration hasn’t struck, consider the following prompts for complications or intrigue:

For Innocent NPCs

  • How do the Agents approach the NPC? (How would you react to half-a-dozen suspicious criminal types showing up on your doorstep?)
  • Do the Agents meet the NPC at home, or work, or some other location? What’s the place like?
  • What are the Agents interrupting when they arrive?
  • Does the NPC have a reason to hide what he or she knows? Does the NPC know the value of the information?
  • When did the NPC last talk about this topic? With whom?
  • Do the players actually need to talk to the NPC, or is this a heist more than an interrogation?
  • Have the NPC treat the PCs as heavily armed genies – what would you do if a bunch of heavily armed criminals offered you a favour in exchange for information?
  • Who else is nearby? Who’s watching? What about animals?
  • Does this scene need to be complicated? Is it better to just give the players the clue and zoom onto a more exciting encounter?
  • Why hasn’t the NPC acted on the information? Why are they still innocent?
  • How can I get this NPC into a fight with the Agents? A chase?
  • What motifs or images can I work into this scene? Blood? Death, disease and decay? Immortality or unnatural youth? The burden of history? Terrorism and the surveillance state? Volcanoes and the secrets of the earth? Sunset or sunrise? Dreams? Diaries and letters? Brides? Bats?
  • Is Dracula nearby?

For Asset NPCs

As above, plus…

  • What’s the NPCs’ escape route from this situation?
  • Public places make for safer meeting places. Pick an Establishing Shot location (p. 254) and have the PCs meet the NPC there. Look at that writeup for ideas.
  • What usual item or precaution has the NPC got hidden around his or her home?
  • Was the Asset briefed on how to deal with people asking about the Dracula Dossier? If so, what’s their standard operating procedure? Stall? Point the PCs to a trap? Turn the tables on them, and pump them for information? Lie and sell the PCs on a false story?
  • What does the intelligence agency want from the PCs, if anything? Does the Asset NPC share that desire?
  • Is the Asset recording the conversation? Is the location bugged?
  • Who wants the Asset dead?
  • How often is the NPC in contact with his or her intelligence agency? How do they communicate?
  • How long will it take the Asset to report this contact with the player characters?
  • What would it take to flip the Asset? Does the Asset want to be bought out?

For Minion NPCs

As above, plus…

  • Is this Minion aware of the true nature of the Conspiracy, or do they think they’re working for something more mundanely malignant? Or is the NPC a lone madman, caught up in the psychic turbulence of the Count?
  • Is the Minion planning on luring the PCs into a trap, in which case he or she meets them somewhere private or dangerous, or trying to deflect them away, in which case a public meeting place is more appropriate?
  • Is this an action scene, where the PCs are threatened? Or is the goal to disturb or confuse them? (Am I planning on eating bugs, or eating them?)
  • How will the NPC use the Agents to advance the Conspiracy’s goals, or curry favour with the Conspiracy?
  • What’s the worst thing the NPC has done for Dracula?
  • What omen or weirdness telegraphs the NPC’s corruption? Is the corruption physical or spiritual?

One final point – in any improvised campaign, especially a stupendously huge and complex one like the Dracula Dossier, it’s inevitable that you’re going to make mistakes. You’ll let the wrong information slip, or you’ll forget some telling detail. (It’s especially likely that you’ll contradict the Annotations at some point, as the players can cross-check those at their leisure after the game session). If you do make a mistake, you’ve got a get-out-of-jail free card you can use to solve almost any error: mind control.

The error that the players picked up on wasn’t a screw-up – it was a subtle clue to Dracula’s involvement, so you can congratulate them on picking up on it. Of course, now that they’ve seen through Dracula’s attempts to cover his tracks, you’re obliged to hit them with another antagonist reaction from the Vampyramid…

One Response to “The Plain People of Gaming: Prompts for Dracula NPCs”

  1. RR says:

    Thanks, MW, very helpful!

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