Reviews

(My apologies for the long delay between installments. I’d intended to post this and the other pieces in the series in early 2020. I wonder what could possibly have distracted me in, oh, say around March of that year.)

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?

Gwen Parton

The Parton family played a key role in the events of Dracula, although their involvement was heavily redacted in the published version. Sir Robert Parton, the president of the law society, was possibly involved with Operation Edom. It was he who put Dracula in contact with Peter Hawkins of Exeter when the Count asked for a lawyer to be dispatched to Transylvania. Later, Parton’s daughter Juliette was a victim of the Count’s unholy hungers, possibly with Parton’s knowledge. Certainly, Parton helped cover up the circumstances of his daughter’s death, removing witnesses like his brother Quentin (exiled to Scotland for his health), and lying to Inspector Cotford. Juliette’s coffin was never found.

(It’s equally likely that Parton was part of the Satanic Cult of Dracula, of course – Cotford’s cryptic last entry on p. 270 of Dracula Unredacted mentions ‘Parton’ at the unholy banquet at Coldfall house, but it’s unclear if he meant the late Juliette or her father Sir Robert.)

Gwen Parton’s descended from Sir Robert’s brother Quentin, although she has little knowledge of that side of the family. Her branch of the Partons have lived in Scotland for generations. Gwen’s in her early 30s, with innumerable piercings and tattoos; she’s drifted in and out of various punk-rock bands, artistic collectives, fringe political groups and activist circles since dropping out of university. Her secret shame – her family’s still very wealthy, and have helped her out of financial difficulties several times.

Innocent: Gwen’s still looking for the right cause – she’s got plenty of energy and passion, but has yet to find something that she really believes in. Taking down Edom/Dracula might be that crusade, especially once she learns about her family connection to the curse.

While a failed rock musician might not seem to be an ideal ally for vampire hunters, Gwen brings several advantages to the table. Her great-great-grandfather Quentin was sensitive to Dracula’s presence, like Renfield – she might equally be able to detect the count. She’s got access to a network of online journalists and other contacts who might be able to dig up useful intel. She can draw on her inheritance for ready cash. And when all else fails, she’s got a pair of well used and very stompy boots, and has special weapons training in smashing a pint glass into someone’s face.

Asset: If Edom’s running Gwen, it’s at arms’ length. She might be a deep-cover agent – maybe Edom’s worried that the stolen copy of Unredacted will fall into the hands of some troublesome investigative journalist or online conspiracy blogger, and they’ve sent Gwen into that world so she can grab the dossier when it surfaces.

Another option: “Gwen” is actually Juliette Parton, the original Edom vampire. Her appearance is as far as one could get from the respectable young Victorian woman she used to be; she only ever goes out at night, and she’s loud and aggressive enough to deflect suspicion.

Minion: Gwen’s a member of the Satanic Cult of Dracula, like her ancestors before her. Given her relative youth and attitude, she’s likely a low-level talent spotter, recruiting criminals and other useful assets for the Conspiracy. She might be a connection between the vampires and mundane criminality. In this scenario, the Agents run into some low-grade goons, beat them up, get pointed at Gwen Parton – and then spot an old family painting or heirloom/discover the Parton trust fund, and unravel the connections between those low-grade goons and the Parton legacy…

Defining quirks: 1) Stompy boots 2) Goth crucifix that happens to be made of solid silver 3) Shifts accents from Edinburgh punk-rock girl to upper-class Oxbridge as needed

Investigative Abilities: Art History, Intimidation, Streetwise, Urban Survival

General Abilities: Conceal 4, Hand-to-Hand 6

Dracula Unredacted Cover_400Karloff reviewed the backer-PDF copy of the Dracula Dossier. You can find the full review here. Thanks, Karloff!

Karloff says,
“This improvisational Night’s Black Agents campaign setting, complete with the unredacted print copy of Stoker’s first edition Dracula and a massive Director’s Handbook, is beyond huge. It’s one thing to write up Stoker’s Dracula with little ‘Dracula’s a great big meanie’ notes in the margins; after all, Stoker’s done the heavy lifting there. It’s something else altogether to take that text, all those marginal notes, and a hundred other things besides, turning it all into a 364-page document complete with supporting characters, locations, rival agencies, and Dracula’s many possible conspyramids and plots. I’ll give you my conclusion right up front: if you have any interest in the Night’s Black Agents setting whatsoever, this is a must-buy.”

“Meanwhile, let me offer my personal thanks, not to the authors – though they deserve every plaudit – but to my fellow Kickstarter backers. Thanks to your funding, something wonderful has been created.”

Karloff goes on,
“If you’re any kind of student of Stoker, you’ll find layer upon layer of meaning here, and each layer translates to yet another node, or character, location, item, plot thread. Imagine trying to put all that together, yourself. Then be grateful someone else did it for you.”

“Should you go to Carfax, for example, there are several different ways the Director could play it, many different items or supporting characters you might find there, and many different consequences. What this means in play is that the characters can never be sure what they’re going to discover, nor can they take anything for granted. It also means that the Director can play this several times, maybe with the same group, and it will never play out the same way twice.”

Finally,
“I’d recommend a new Director buy this even if that Director never plays it as written. It’s a masterclass in how the game is constructed, and how it can be played.”

NBA CD front coverJonathan Hicks of Farsight Blogger fame has posted a great review of Dust and Mirrors, new original music for Night’s Black Agents by James Semple and his crack composing team. Jonathan says,

“The themes on this album have an excellent atmosphere to them that suit the Night’s Black Agents game perfectly. I’m incredibly impressed with this album, not just as a decent soundtrack for a great game but also as a great selection of music from some incredibly talented people. I can see this getting some serious airtime during my special ops-themed campaigns”.

He also says,

“The music itself reflects both of the genres the game represents exceptionally well. The high-energy and action-orientated spy genre merges well with the dark, brooding danger of the horror in the world and you could quite easily use this music in a general spy- or special ops-themed game or a stand-alone horror one.”

You can read the full review on RPG.net here.

A review of five-ENnie-nominated Night’s Black Agents by Charlie White on Intwischa

If you want to feel like a badass, get this book. If you’re sick of Twilight, get this book. If you want compelling player-versus-player that doesn’t ruin campaigns or friendships, get this book.

Hell, if you like roleplaying games, get this book. It thoroughly deserves its spot as a nominee for Best RPG of the Year, and I’m very much looking forward to giving it a try.

Michael Wolf over at Stargazer’s World has written a detailed and balanced review of Kenneth Hite’s newest GUMSHOE offering, Night’s Black Agents. You can read the full review here.

It’s very well written, basically allows you to run or play in every spy thriller subgenre with vampires or not, and it adds a lot to the Gumshoe system without feeling too complicated. If you are interested in spy games you should definitely check this game out, I doubt you’ll find anything better anytime soon.

Two wider geek-media huzzahs for Pelgrane core games hit this week, and by some kind of odd coincidence, they both feature interviews with me.

Andrew Girdwood of Geek Native shares the news of how you can get Trail of Cthulhu for 55% off at DriveThruRPG if you haven’t bought it yet, and asks me all manner of questions including “What music goes well with Trail of Cthulhu?” You know I plugged James Semple’s amazing soundtracks, but click through to see what else I suggested.

Ed Grabianowski, meanwhile, gives Night’s Black Agents a very flattering review at io9.com (“Filled with innovative features that help create a unique gaming experience”) and asks me, among other things, about playtest highlights I didn’t mention in the “DVD Commentary” sections in the book. Find out where the giant stone vampire head was, here.

In the course of a roundup of his Dragonmeet 2012 experiences, Sidney Roundwood offers a brief response to Night’s Black Agents:

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.

After that starter, the main. The Iron Reviewer himself, Matthew Pook, takes a long, long look at Night’s Black Agents in his most recent Reviews From R’lyeh, and comes away well pleased:

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.

Check both posts out!

 

Fantastic review of Kenneth Hite’s newest GUMSHOE masterpiece, Night’s Black Agents, over at Age of Ravens. Lowell Francis has written a detailed and balanced review which goes over everything from layout design to a chapter by chapter overview. Well worth a read for any considering NBA for their collection.

I liked last year’s preliminary version of Night’s Black Agents, and this confirms and extends that. It’s a brilliantly assembled volume with amazing layout and compelling writing. It’s certainly my favorite of the line.

You can read the full review here.

[Ed: Read Andrew’s review of Night’s Black Agent’s and GUMSHOE here]

Night’s Black Agents pits super spies against vampires in a covert war. My Review of the [REDACTED] edition covers the game in general, while this article contains a worked example of a vampire that I have cooked up using the rules.

This is my first attempt at creating a vampire. In lieu of creativity of my own, I’ve used ideas from the text and cribbed from a number of different sources to create this; these sources are listed after the game stats. I have started with the Alien category as it fit best with my grab bag of ideas.

Alien

The vampires came from the stars; the first lay frozen and dormant inside a meteorite that travelled across space for uncountable years. Entry into the Earth’s atmosphere burnt off the outer shell of rock and provided the warmth needed to wake it from its hibernation. Emerging from its impact crater, the tarry, viscous biped hunts. Tracking and killing a human, it gorges on its blood, deftly guts the corpse, to finally climb into the cavity it has created in its new host body. Within a few hours the vicious belly wounds have closed over and it is ready to infect the nearest city with more of its kind.

The vampires metabolisms are similar to cold blooded creatures: When they are cold their body works slower, when they are hot they burn energy much faster and operate well beyond human capabilities. Their theft of human bodies is twofold: It is camouflage in the human world, and it protection from direct exposure to the environment. The hosts brain and any organs visible (e.g. eyes, skin, etc) from outside the body are left intact. The vampire binds itself to the brain to process the environment around it (for language etc) and to draw from its hosts memories.

The vampire must drink human blood to maintain the organs of the body it has stolen and to get energy. Without a ready supply of blood the creature will retreat to colder environments to slow its metabolism. In warmer climates the vampires prefer to take fit, thin bodies to make it easier to regulate their temperature. In colder climates they prefer heavier hosts.

In the event that it is starved of blood the host’s hair and teeth falls out, skin, tongue and eyes dry out. Eventually the blood deprived remains will be start to decay and the vampire must leave.

Because the vampires are effectively cold blooded, and are dormant when cold, the vampires buy up cool stores to house mooks without having to find enough blood to keep them alive at once. More established bases can remotely defrost batches of low level vampires.

Vampires high in the conspyramid travel in freezer cars in trains and boats to move undetected around Europe and later the world.

Goals

This vampire is driven by it’s alien biology to infect a planet, and breed the next generation of alien spores that will be sent on to consume other planets.

It builds a network of vampires and henchmen to achieve two goals: produce as many vampire spawn as possible, and to acquire the appropriate technology (produced from first principles where needed) to launch the next generation onto the next iteration of the cycle.

Game Statistics

Most of the vampires the agents will encounter in a temperate climate will use the following:

General Abilities Aberrance 12, Hand-To-Hand 10, Health 10
Hit Threshold 5
Alertness Modifier +2
Stealth Modifier +1
Damage Modifier 0 (Claws [see other powers], Extended Canines), -1 (Fist, kick, head-butt)
Armor Tar-like anatomy: -2 against melee weapons; firearms and projectiles do half damage. Car crashes and falls do 1 point of damage. The host body is numb to pain but the organism within is not*. No damage taken from cold environments.
Free Powers Darkvision, Drain
Other Powers Extend host fingers into claws (perforates the epidermis, and requires healing via Regeneration or Drain), Infection (Must kill and gut target first. On a 1pt Aberrance spend the vampire can discard its current body and transfer itself to the victim, on a 2pt Aberrance spend it may seperate a portion of itself into a new create that will incubate within the victim), Spider Climb (requires extending claws, same caveat applies), Vampiric Speed, Regeneration (takes a couple of minutes).
Banes Fire (does normal damage)**.
Requirements Drink blood, maintain body temperature.

Notes:

* When the vampire falls below 0 Health (e.g is Hurt) it does not need to make a consciousness roll due to not feeling any pain in the host body. However as the damage is debilitating to the host, the standard penalties for being Hurt still apply. When Seriously Wounded no consciousness roll must be made, but health does continue to drop. If -12 is reached, the host body is too badly damaged and the vampire must abandon it.

** When in particularly hot environments (furnaces, burning buildings, etc) the vampire sweats profusely. While these vampires are not explicitly hurt by sunlight, if enough time is spent in the sun its metabolism will increase.

Sources

I’ve taken ideas from a number of sources including:

  • The BBC’s Frozen Planetseries. There are two aspects:
    • Wooly Bear Caterpillers can freeze completely solid over winter to hibernate, and then thaw out to continue the work of eating enough to finally transform into a moth. It takes several summer seasons for the caterpillar to finally transform. This is the central idea for this vampire.
    • There is a kind of weasel that lives in the frozen north and hunts tiny voles through the tunnels that the voles construct in the snow. The weasel is narrow enough to fit anywhere the vole can. Once it kills the vole it drags it back to a nest it has made within the warrens. Not only does the weasel eat the vole, but it tears off all the fur from the hide to make a nest with so that it won’t freeze. Stealing the body of its prey and using it to survive in the environment is taken from this.
  • H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour out of Space. This is a story about a different kind of vampire from the stars. I’ve just lifted the detail about the alien traveling between the stars in meteors.
  • Jack the Ripper: Gory details about how the creature steals bodies and its lifecycle.
  • John Carpenter’s The Thing, The episode of The X-Files called Ice (itself a homage to The Thing), and the Valyen from Christopher Moeller’s Iron Empires / Burning Empires: small details about and tone about body invading and mimicking alien menaces.

This article originally appeared on A Lazy Sequence.

Andrew Brehaut at The Lazy Sequence has given a detailed and very positive review of the [REDACTED] Edition of Night’s Black Agents, Kenneth Hite’s new GUMSHOE vampire/spy thriller. You can read the full review here.

Hite and Pelgrane have put together another game that tugs at my attention and screams ‘Play Me Now’… I found the text an enjoyable read; even in what should be dry material, Hite has managed to keep the text fast moving and entertaining.

Our first review of Night’s Black Agents, by Rick Neal.

If you like scary vampires, if you like espionage games, if you’re looking for a dark, modern game of horror investigation, I heartily recommend you pick up this book