The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook (DH) covers the present-day Legacies of the main members of the Crew of Light – Billie Harker, Tabitha Holmwood, Thad Morris and the rest, the descendants of the original group who battled Dracula. However, Dracula Unredacted reveals the existence of several other members of this fellowship who, for reasons sinister or editorial, were excised from the narrative. Once the players discover the existence of Kate Reed or Inspector Cotford, might they not try to track down their present-day heirs?

Dr. James Renfield

One of the most fascinating and unexplained asides in the whole of Dracula is Renfield’s brief moment of lucidity shortly before his death, when he pleads with the Crew of Light for understanding (Dracula Unredacted, p. 331). He reveals that he seconded Lord Godalming’s father at the Windham Club, and shows surprising knowledge of the other hunters, suggesting Renfield was a man of considerable erudition and respectability before his madness.

The Director’s Handbook (p. 38) describes Renfield at the time of the novel, and also speculates he might have been committed to the asylum by a relative. If so, there might be a Renfield legacy in the present day.

Enter Dr. James Renfield – he’s a brilliant medical researcher, possibly working at the modern-day NHS facility built on the site of the asylum that once held his ancestor. Like the original Renfield, Dr. James is in remarkable physical condition – he regularly runs marathons, is an avid mountain-climber, and is in the Territorial reserves – and extremely well connected, socially and politically. He’s on various advisory bodies and boards, and has given evidence before Parliamentary committees on occasion, discussing bioterrorism, the ethics of genetic engineering and similar matters (possible connections: Philip Holmwood, DH p. 43; “Mr. Hopkins”, DH p. 117, Pharmaceutical Researcher, DH p. 128).

He’s a brilliant but intense man, impatient with lesser minds. Few people can keep up with Dr. Renfield when he’s tackling a challenge.

Dr. James shares one other quality with his ancestor – he’s unusually succeptible to vampiric influence. As soon as Dracula (or another vampire) comes within close proximity of the good doctor, his personality begins to change, taking on aspects of that vampire’s personality and goals. He soon becomes obsessive, then degenerates into incoherence and self-destructive or violent acts. Tailor the psychosis to the vampire – a Renfield in the thrall of Countess Bathory might behave very differently to one exposed to the American Vampire, or a resurrected Lucy.

Innocent: His great-great-grandfather has been erased from the family history, but show him a photograph or other proof of the actual existence of R.M. Renfield, and Dr. James is convinced to aid the Agents. This version of Dr. James is a tragic figure – he starts off as a heroic ally of the Agents, but quickly falls under the sway of the first major vampire encountered by the group.

Asset: Renfield’s already working with Edom (just like his ancestor?). Dr. James is actually an excellent candidate for Dr. Drawes (DH p. 50); alternatively, he might be an Edom researcher working on the Seward Serum. Presumably, they keep him far away from any actual vampires to avoid psychic contamination.

Minion: What’s that you say? How could the descendent of the guy who was famously working for Dracula be… working for Dracula? The obvious Minion take is that Renfield falls under Dracula’s spell, and acts to help the vampire in whatever way he can – kidnapping victims as offerings, inviting Dracula into houses, stalking troublesome hunters. Remember that Dracula may not even be aware of Renfield’s existence; Renfield’s compelled to act by Dracula’s psychic presence, not the vampire’s will.

For a nastier twist – Renfield’s willingly working for Dracula. When rumours of the missing Dossier reach the Count, Dracula orders his minion Renfield to trail his coat. Dr. James starts posting messages online, saying he’s looking into an odd family mystery, a disgraced ancestor who’s been excised from the records. Why, he’s got a copy of his ancestor’s coded journal (DH p. 277) – maybe, when put together with other records from the period, it might yield some useful information.

Defining Quirks: 1) Intense gaze 2) Loves cats 3) Hates insects, especially flies.

Investigative Abilities: Forensic Pathology, High Society, Outdoor Survival, Pharmacy, Research

General Abilities: Athletics 9, First Aid 10, Hand to Hand 6, Infiltration 6, Shrink 6

 

In the latest episode of their thoroughly cetaceous podcast, Ken and Robin talk robustness in RPG design, the whale sculpture that prevented a train crash, folk horror scenarios that don’t repeat The Wicker Man, and mystical psychologist Claudio Naranjo.

It’s been some time since the Poison Tree campaign was announced, even by the sometimes leisurely standards of Pelgrane. It’s currently on my desk undergoing development and additional writing. The core concept of the campaign is unchanged from those early articles – a series of connected adventures across the generations, from 1650 to the present day, tracing the ghastly fate of the cursed Whettall family. Right now, the final adventure roster is looking like:

Chapter 1: 1650

Chapter 2: 1715

Chapter 3: 1752

Chapter 4: 1775

Chapter 5: 1890

Chapter 6: 1914

Chapter 7: 1952

Chapter 8: 2023

(with plenty of scope for ambitious Keepers to drop other scenarios into the gaps – notably, there’s a period in the 1920s where one branch of the Whettall family become occult investigators operating out of Miskatonic university, so you can graft virtually any Trail adventure onto the campaign…)

I always enjoy the development phase of a book like this. It’s when you get to look at the text as a whole, and start to spot patterns and correspondences. You get to add in moments of foreshadowing (or excise accidental overlaps between adventures). You get to weave the chapters together, dropping hints and callbacks.

One of the tasks was updating the Poison Tree text to the modern GUMSHOE sensibilities. While Trail of Cthulhu’s rules haven’t changed, our understanding of best practises when it comes to structuring GUMSHOE scenarios and presenting information have improved, so I’ve added innumerable Leads-in/Leads-Out entries and Scene Flow diagrams. We’re also still wrestling with the question of how best to handle character generation for the campaign – there will definitely be a set of pregenerated investigators for each chapter, but how they’ll be presented and whether or not they’ll be the default option remains to be determined. Still, all questions should be resolved and rewrites completed well in time for a late-autumn harvest…

And after that, it’s onto an even longer-promised project…

When your Ashen Stars characters next seek a person, piece of information, or illicit technology, place the object of their search in the fleet of the Asteroid Pirates. These rough-edged survivors of the post-War Bleed seek their fortunes in ships whose hulls are part alloy, part hollowed-out microplanetoid. Arrayed together, aided by sophisticated wavelength spoofers, the fleet can easily be misread for an ordinary asteroid belt. They use this stealth tech both to evade their hunters and ambush their targets.

(If the PCs need to locate the fleet to gain information, the Energy Signatures investigative ability reveals its presence. Tell the player that the character was almost fooled, as a less brilliant counterpart would certainly have been. When the presence of the fleet simply poses a danger, require a Difficulty 4 Sense Trouble check to distinguish it from an asteroid belt before it’s too late.)

Outsiders call them Asteroid Pirates. Members of the fleet refer to themselves as the Free Stones. Only some of its constituent ships engage in piracy. Others strictly work salvage, though the distinctions between these two trades can blur. At least half of the fleet engages in service activity, as the fleet operates with the economy of a small, star-roving settlement. Particular ships serve as shops, restaurants, spas, repair shops, or provide other goods and services. The pirates and salvagers trade their purloined/recovered goods with the rest of the sector, and spend that income on the fleet’s other ships.

Ships that operate as public businesses connect to one another by projecting tube-shaped forcefields between their airlocks. Customers can walk from ship to ship as they would through the streets of a planetside town. However the ships can change their relative configuration at any time, requiring frequent consultation of one’s communicator to find a specific destination. Some proprietors pay the owners of more popular establishments for the right to tube-lock with them, increasing their foot traffic. If you want to get to Van Gar’s Psychic Kinesiology Center, you have to walk through Hostius’ Knife Haus, and his blades are priced to go, go, go.

The fleet usually flies in a single-planar arrangement, as seen above. During an attack, the tube-locks disengage. The fleet reconfigures into a sphere, with the lesser armed service vessels protected in the middle and the higher-powered pirate and salvage vessels forming a protective zone around them. Together the fleet can muster more cannon power than a single warship, and strikes with a completely unpredictable fire pattern. Pilots maneuver and target independently of one another, with an unpredictability that challenges even the most experienced tactician.

As they say in the Bleed, anyone who claims to lead the Free Stones is lying, and any Free Stone who denies influence may well possess it. They claim to operate as an anarchic collective, coming to decisions by spontaneous gestalt. You may decide that this is true, or that an unofficial council of wealthy or accomplished captains exerts de facto leadership as needed.

Free Stones range in profile from disaffected ex-Combine officers to society-shunning oddballs to outright space scum. Between them, the hundreds of crew members of the asteroid fleet might have an answer to any question your player characters care to ask.


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop. Ship plans appear in Accretion Disk.

In the latest episode of their elegant podcast, Ken and Robin talk unity in game design, the Trylon and Perisphere, Aldebaran vs. Betelgeuse, and the Battle of Blair Mountain.

In the latest episode of their well-circulated podcast, Ken and Robin talk scenario diagnostics, the Kent State massacre, choosing settings for The Yellow King, and Raimondo di Sangro’s anatomical machines.

In the latest episode of their immaculately pasteurized podcast, Ken and Robin talk playtesting, globe-trotting CIA operative Louise Page Morris, letting fiction go long, and germ theory denialism.

A scenario seed for The Gaean Reach

 

During their quest to find interstellar adversary Quandos Vorn, the revenge-seekers hear that he too is on the hunt. He seeks Gorsk, a former lieutenant who has stolen an item of experimental technology using a master plan Quandos Vorn himself formulated. As they follow Gorsk’s trail over a series of scenes, locations and interactions, the team discovers:

  • the site of the heist, a secret vault beneath the Pan Arts Museum on Alcydon, where Gorsk garroted a pair of curators
  • that the device has been sealed away for generations, to protect the Reach from what would otherwise have been its inevitable use
  • that it is known as the Godhood Array
  • that Gorsk traveled to the resort planet, Fluter, to kidnap Foringan Fost, the Reach’s foremost expert in the handling of the dangerous radioactive material Glimmerium
  • that Gorsk took him to a sector of the Reach permeated by waves from the EKS Quasar

When they reach the orbital research platform where Gorsk commanded Foringan Fost to activate the Godhood Array, they find that Vorn’s ex-factotum has been transformed into a quasi-divine stellar entity. In his tormented new semi-substantial form his distorted face hangs in the starfield, howling in existential agony. The Array subatomically transmigrated him into an omniscient but utterly powerless being. Like any sapient being, Gorsk the God finds this ironic state of existence infinitely painful.

He now understands the full truth: Quandos Vorn intended Gorsk to get the array, knowing he would use it, and suffer this awful fate for all eternity.

Gorsk the God offers the team knowledge of Quandos Vorn’s future whereabouts—provided they can figure out a way to destroy him, ending his misery. Can they trust him, or is he planning one last cosmic swindle?

The Gaean Reach and its Gazetteer are part of the Pelgrane Deep Cuts bundle until September 9th!


The Gaean Reach, the Roleplaying Game of Interstellar Vengeance, brings to your tabletop the legendary cycle of science fiction classics by the great Jack Vance. This ingenious hybrid fuses the investigative clarity of the GUMSHOE system with the lethal wit of the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. Purchase The Gaean Reach in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the latest episode of their wyrm-ducking podcast, Ken and Robin talk dragon apocalypses, the high-frequency trades of Carcosa, and the rest of Ken’s New England book raid.

In April a member of the Oita, Japan municipal assembly known as Skull Reaper A-ji sued for the right to wear his mask while conducting official business. A costumed wrestler by trade, he argued that it was discriminatory to prevent him from concealing his civilian identity while working his side gig as a local politician.

Such a suit could also occur in Mutant City Blues, where a small percentage of the enhanced bow to comic book tradition by operating under costumed identities. Given the police procedural structure of the game, that hook must surely lead to murder.

Let’s say that it’s our masked local official who winds up dead not long after his press conference announcing his suit. He hassled street criminals and sold merch as the burly, blustering King Lion, but now he’s been found with a bullet hole in him in his humble downtown apartment, rented under his real name, Leo Henderson.

The list of suspects the investigators assembles looks like this:

Ira Alvarado, a protester from the Neutral Parity League who disrupted King Lion’s press conference. Like all NPL members he stridently opposes anything he construes as special rights for the enhanced.

Margaret Becker, Henderson’s ex-wife, embroiled in a lawsuit over his attempt to break their prenuptial agreement and force the sale of their second home so he can take half the proceeds.

Lance Gordon, a fellow assembly member hoping to conceal his past as a drug dealer. King Lion knew all about that, having put a beating on him during an anti-drug vigilante patrol. Was he threatening blackmail?

Kelli Reeves, a freelance writer King Lion was threatening to sue, after she blamed him in print for a vigilante attack he had a solid alibi for.

Marcia Burton, formerly his crimebusting partner Queen Lion, who has suffered from uncontrollable rage after taking a bullet for him.

Abdul Melton, the super strong downstairs neighbor who began receiving threatening anonymous messages after refusing to become King Lion’s sidekick.

Darren Maki, whose husband shot himself after King Lion released a cellphone video of him as part of his crusade against the sex trade in his district.

It’s never the most obvious suspect in a police procedural, so Alvarado has a core clue to offer but didn’t do it. Pick the suspect you prefer or roll a die.


Mutant City Blues is an investigative science fiction roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws where members of the elite Heightened Crime Investigation Unit solve crimes involving the city’s mutant community. Purchase Mutant City Blues in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Previous Entries