For some weeks now, you’ve been on the trail of a vampire in London.

Call him Dracula.

He may or may not be the no-kidding Count Dracula, but he’s definitely cut from the same burial shroud.

You’ve hunted him across London, destroying his refuges and hiding places, denying him his coffins. Maybe tonight will be the night you catch him, and come face to face with your enemy.

Time is running short. Unless you kill him, he’ll spread his curse like a disease. Think of the vampire as a pathogen, a plague – the Dracula Vector.

The Dracula Vector is a short (1-2 session) adventure, designed as an introduction to the Night’s Black Agents RPG, and giving a taste of how a larger mission plays out.

It can also serve as a jumping-off point for a longer Dracula Dossier campaign.

Stock #: PELGN16D Author: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artist: Phil Stone Type: 29-page PDF

Buy now

Following on from this explosion of 19th century French vampire weirdness

There is a little-known place which is undoubtedly the strangest in the world. The people who inhabit the barbarous lands around Belgrade sometimes call it Selene, sometimes Vampire City, but the vampires refer to it among themselves by the names of the Sepulchre and the College. It is normally invisible to mortal eyes–and to the eyes of each of those who contrive to catch a glimpse of it, it presents a different image. For this reason, reports of its nature are various and contradictory.

Some tell of a great city of black jasper which has streets and buildings like any other city but is eternally in mourning, enveloped by perpetual gloom. Others have caught sight of immense amphitheaters capped with domes like mosques, and minarets reaching for the sky more numerous than the pines in the forest of Dinawar. Yet others have found a single circus of colossal proportions, surrounded by a triple rank of white marble cloisters lit by a lunar twilight that never gives way to day or night.

Arranged there, in mysterious order, are the sepulchral dwellings of that prodigious people which the wrath of God has placed in the margins of our world. The sons of that people, half demon and half phantom, are living and dead at the same time, incapable of reproducing themselves but also deprived of the blessing of death.

The city of Selene exists in a shadowy dimension parallel to earthly reality. It’s congruent with our reality near Belgrade in Serbia – specifically, near the district of Zemun. (The name Zemun, by the way, derives from zemlja, soil – native soil, anyone?). At the stroke of midnight, a vampire can open a portal to Selene.

On the far side of the portal is the bizarre city of Selene – a vast necropolis of huge tombs and temples, all built of the same stone (green-tinged porphyryr, mortared together with seams of black marble). The temples are decorated with statues and friezes depicting scenes of horror and torture; the tombs bear monuments to the vile deeds and atrocities of the vampires who slumber there. Every vampire has a tomb – Monsieur Goetzi, who was a relatively young and insignificant vampire, had a tomb to match his lowly status that was “only a little grander than St. Paul’s in London”.

The portal from the outside world brings visitors to the dead centre of the city, to a great circular plaza. From there, six streets lead to the six great divisions of the city, each named after a creature (the Bat Quarter and the Serpent Quarter are mentioned by name; presumably, the other quarters are named after other animals associated with vampires, like wolves or rats).

Although the city seems empty at first, it must be remembered that every vampire who dwells there contains a multitude. A single vampire incorporates within its pale form an entire household – or two, given their innate ability to duplicate their shades – and a whole army of shades and monsters arrived to avenge the burning of Goetzi’s heart.

It is as well to put on record that the number of young women devoured by vampires in the immediate environs of their convent was much less considerable that one might have imagined. In order not to rouse the entire country to revolt, the vampires had agreed between them that they would not inflict any damage within a perimeter of fifteen leagues. Monsieur Goetzi had, therefore, broken this pact in slaking his thirst to the detriment of an inhabitant of Semlin–a prohibited town, like Peterwardein and Belgrade. In consequence, for fear of being reprimanded by his own kind, he had not dared enroll the two Szegeli girls in his company of slaves and had made mere art-objects out of their carefully-prepared cadavers.

The laws of Selene forbid vampires from feeding near the invisible city. They must go further abroad to find victims – and to win renown. A vampire’s tomb in Selene appears proportional to the vampire’s infamy in the mortal world. Thus, the relatively unknown Goetzi had only a cathedral-sized tomb, whereas his neighbours (a Prussian prime minister and a Parisienne vampire) had far larger monuments to their sins. Presumably, it’s customary for a vampire to spend a few decades out among mortals, committing all sorts of vile deeds and atrocities, and then return to the city to bask in the glory of their expanded tomb and slumber for an age.

This brings up the question, of course – who builds these impossibly huge monuments? Do the vampires themselves employ their shade-slaves to labour while the vampire sleeps? Are the mysterious ‘evil priests’ involved? Are the buildings magical conjured – or is Selene itself a dream, and the structures are the spiritual reflection of the vampires?

The pallid blooms of all these flower-beds slept on their stems, unswayed by any breeze. The enchantment which had suspended their animation had power enough to freeze the water-jets of fountains in mid-air. You know how monotony enlarges everything by discouraging thought, even immensity itself; twilight as cold and clear as the face of the moon struck that symmetrical crowd of monuments–all built of the same stone, colorless and semi-transparent–from every side at once, casting not a single shadow.

Time appears to be stopped in Selene; nothing ages or rots here, and even the vampiric inhabitants appear listless and disinterested in intruders unless provoked. Characters cannot Refresh any ability pools within the confines of Selene.

Selene might be a sort of ur-vampire – just as vampires can split off and re-absorb the shades of their victims, maybe entering Selene means being absorbed by the vampire city. As above, so below – the whole city might be a gigantic clockwork-heart hyperspace.

 

Vampiric Origins

Féval never explains where his vampires come from, but offers three intriguing hints.

First, in his description of Selene, the narrator notes “most experts agree that the moon may be assigned to the vampire race as a fatherland” – which, clearly, means SPACE VAMPIRES. For that matter, Selene – time-less, cloaked, accessible through a portal, of uncertain dimensions and filled with impossible buildings – sounds a lot more like a starship or alien hyperdimensional otherspace than a city.

Second, there’s the intriguing case of Goetzi himself, who only recently became a vampire when he “when he received from Peterwardein the diploma of a master vampire”. (Peterwardein, now known as Petrovardin, is another town near Belgrade, so presumably this diploma came from Selene). Was Goetzi just an ordinary human before he graduatedinto vampirism? Selene’s also known as the Invisible College; maybe it’s a school for evil sorcerers, the fabled Scholomance where Dracula studied. And given Goetzi became a vampire in England, it’s a correspondence school.

Third, there’s the thoroughly weird clockwork heart of the vampires. It’s not a metaphor – vampires literally have mechanical hearts, and these hearts have a manifest connection to the vampire’s incorporated shades that can be severed, freeing the shades from the vampire’s tyranny. In the novel, the characters are able to free Polly from Goetzi’s control with a Medicine spend.

Putting it all together – these vampires are humans bonded with alien technology from Selene. A suitable candidate (according to whatever criteria the evil priests use) is given a mechanical heart-module that transforms them into a vampire. The ‘tenuous and sticky’ flesh of vampires is some form of protean shape-shifting slime or nanotechnology, able to bud off and reabsorb ‘shades’, given form and pattern from the stolen DNA samples of drained victims. The heart functions as some sort of regulator, keeping the vampire from collapsing into a cancerous blob of overlapping genetic expressions. This might also explain why the ashes of a vampire’s heart are so lethal – one heart interferes with another, causing the vampire to lose control of its many forms; instead of budding off, the vampire spawns overlapping copies of everyone it’s eaten within itself, and… boom.

Both the vampiric ability to duplicate themselves and Selene’s invisibility suggest the vampires are slightly out of phase with our reality, and they can take advantage of this discontinuity to copy themselves.

 

Those Pesky Evil Priests

So, who are the mysterious ‘evil priests’ who seemingly sit around waiting to rewind damaged vampires? Selene has temples as well as tombs – the priests presumably dwell there, but it’s unclear if they serve the vampires, or if the vampires are merely the tools or agents of the priests. If Selene’s a starship, the priests might be its maintenance drones – or its original alien crew, unable to leave their ship, so they’ve turned to the native fauna of this planet, turning them into cybernetic probes to gather information about Earth. The gigantic ‘tombs’ of the vampires might be gigantic memory-stacks, where the memories of the shades are processed into a form the aliens can understand.

There Are A Million Stories In Vampire City…

And here are three of them.

The Collector

The Agents learn of a mysterious financier. He’s got connections at the highest level of power – but no-one’s quite sure where his money came from. He invests in cutting-edge science – and invites the best scientists to his mansion for dinner. He’s secretly a vampire brain collector, absorbing the accumulated knowledge of human civilisation. Worse, within the vampire’s mechanical heart, the shades of these stolen geniuses are forced to labour on a single project of terrible intent… finding a way to open the portal to Selene fully, so the vampires can swarm out en masse and consume all humanity.

Selene Unveiled

Selene’s no longer invisible. It’s one of the great cities of Europe, a jewel of the continent. The culture of Paris, the financial might of London, the architecture of Prague, all rolled into one. When people say bankers and corporate lawyers are bloodsuckers, here they mean it literally. Run Selene as a modern-day spin on Cthulhu City, where everyone knows the vampires are in charge, but no-one dare say it aloud.

The Goetzi Identity

For a super-weird campaign – the player characters are all shades. They got killed and eaten by a vampire, but managed to break free of their master’s control. Now, they’re on the run from the other vampires. They’ve all got the power to spawn disposable duplicates of themselves, and can merge with each other (a great way to explain what happens to the character when a player can’t make game night) – but there’s a whole city of vampires hunting them, they’re slowly degenerating into ectoplasm, and their master’s synovie is out there too. Better to burn out (green) than fade away…

In the latest episode of their authentically regal podcast, Ken and Robin talk Vampire: the Masquerade PCs as Night’s Black Agents villains, unlikely movie stars, food books, and Andorra’s 13 day king.

While searching for French vampire inspiration for a new Night’s Black Agents campaign I’m running, I came across Paul Féval’s La Ville Vampire. The Wikipedia synopsis doesn’t do it justice.

in which the protagonist is Gothic Novel writer Ann Radcliffe herself. In it, to save her friends from the dreaded vampire lord Otto Goetzi, Radcliffe and her fearless vampire hunting companions, Merry Bones the Irishman, Grey Jack the faithful old servant, the revenge-driven Doctor Magnus Szegeli, and Polly Bird, one of the vampire’s earlier victims, mount an expedition to find the legendary vampire city of Selene.

As a tale of gothic horror, it’s somewhat lacking – one big action scene is a drunken Irishman with a magic spoon vs a whole city full of vampires, and my countryman comes out victorious – but the vampires are so off-the-wall weird that they deserve a Night’s Black Agents writeup.

A Society of Horrors

“Each vampire is a collective, represented by one principal form, but possessing other accessory forms of indeterminate number. The famous vampire of Gran, which terrorized both banks of the Danube around the town of Ofen in the 14th century, was man, woman, child, crow, horse and pike.”

If a vampire drains a victim to death, the vampire can incorporate that victim’s essence into itself. It can then create a shade of that victim, a physical copy that’s bound to obey the vampire. The shade can merge back into the vampire when no longer needed. Shades left alone for too long may stray or become capable of independent thought.

The shade is not always a perfect copy; if the vampire’s unlucky or the victim’s resilient, then the vampire succeeds only in incorporating a diminished and changed form of the victim. Monsieur Goetzi, for example, devoured an Austrian soldier whose shade manifested as a young boy (but retained the captain’s military knowledge and taste for drink), while a Jewish moneylender was reduced to the shade-form of a parrot. (In game terms, the victim gets to make a contest of Stability against the Vampire’s Aberrance; if the victim wins, the vampire gets only the diminished version, or even no shade at all.)

Shades retain their original game statistics (reduced if the shade’s a diminished version), but can draw on the vampire’s Aberrance pool.

Creating a shade costs the vampire one Aberrance; this is refunded when the shade remerges with its master.

If a shade is slain when outside the vampire, it melts away, and the vampire’s Aberrance is permanently reduced by 1.

A vampire cannot have more shades than its Aberrance rating.

Entering Shades

A vampire can submerge itself inside one of its shades if it prefers, giving it a sort of shapeshifting. For example, Monsieur Goetzi could hide himself inside the parrot-shade.

The Synovie

In the period when Doctor Otto Goetzi came to the county of Stafford to be the tutor of Edward S. Barton, he was still only an apprentice vampire. He had neither a double nor any accessories at all. Do you remember poor Polly Bird, the daughter of the High Farm, whose premature death set the whole parish mourning three years ago? Well, my friends, it is the unfortunate Polly Bird herself who is speaking to you. Monsieur Goetzi, when he received from Peterwardein the diploma of a master vampire, immediately chose me to be his double and the foundation of his interior mechanism.”

The vampire’s first victim is of special importance – the first victim’s shade manifests as a copy of the vampire. Féval refers to this shade as the synovie, and it seems to be a sort of major-domo or organising principle, responsible for keeping the other shades in line. The synovia has the same ability scores as the vampire, and has the memories and personality of the vampire overlaid onto its original mind.

Deprived of access to its synovie, a vampire cannot manifest its other shades. In the novel, Goetzi’s synovie ends up reasserting her original personality when separated from her master, while retaining her physical form as a perfect copy of the original vampire. (She still thirsts for blood.)

Duplication

When his accessories had departed, Monsieur Goetzi duplicated himself so that he would have someone to talk to. He lit a fire, and anyone who lifted his eyes that evening from the valley floor to the summit of that inaccessible peak, untrodden by any human foot, would have seen two grey shapes squatting in the snow, warmed by a livid brazier.

All the vampire’s shades, with the exception of the synovie, can create a single duplicate of themselves at the cost of one Aberrance each. When a duplicate remerges with the original shade, this Aberrance is refunded. Duplicates have exactly the same ability pools as the original when conjured. Therefore, it’s tactically sound for a vampire to conjure all its shades and then have them all duplicate themselves before going into battle, so everyone’s got maximum Health and Combat pools.

A slain duplicate vanishes.

Clockwork Heart

Merry Bones plied the scalpel conscientiously and proved his talent for butchery. But beneath the slicing edge of the blade, not a single drop of blood sprang forth. Evidently, nothing but the heart itself was alive; its envelope was dead and dry. “Pay attention, please!” said Polly. “My life is attached to that of my master by a small thread of nervous tissue, which you must cut before touching the heart. You will find eleven such threads in the pericardium: one for each of my co-accessories. My own thread is the first on the right. Can you see it?”

Vampires have clockwork hearts that secrete a ruby-red liquid. A severely injured (reduced below -12 Health) vampire is not slain, but requires rewinding via a keyhole in the left side of the breast. Such keys are held by an evil priest (it’s not clear from the text if there’s a singular evil priest who has a single key, or if there’s one evil priest who has a bunch of keys, one per vampire, or if a wounded vampire is expected to wander until he happens to meet an evil priest who happens to have a suitable key), but rewinding the vampire restores it to full Health. A suitable evil priest dwells in the city of Selene.

If the vampire’s heart is extracted and burnt, the ashes of the mechanical heart can be used as a potent bane against other vampires.

Even when the vampire’s at full health, a little fluid leaks from the keyhole over the course of the day; bloodstains on a shirt can give away the presence of a vampire.

Death Stench

I ask your permission now to use a rather offensive word; circumstances demand it. Nothing stinks like a vampire who is at rest in the freedom of his own house.

A Wounded or mostly dead vampire exudes a potent stench, suffocating anyone in the same room (lose 1 Athletics or Health each round). Preparedness for smelling salts (or, in the modern day, a gas mask) guards against this effect.

Eldritch Glow

Towards evening, when the shadows of twilight descended upon the Rhine and its banks, a pale green glow appeared…

Light sources near a vampire burn with an unnatural greenish tinge; this green shade intensifies if the vampire spends Aberrance. At night, when a vampire is near, even the moon can appear to glow with a green light. In the modern day, this effect extends to electronic screen display and electric lights.

These stats are for a relatively weak vampire like Monsieur Goetzi; older and more powerful vampires can have vastly higher abilities, with Aberrance scores of 50 or more (and a matching number of shades).

General Abilities: Aberrance 10, Hand-to-Hand 6, Health 10, Shooting 6, Weapons 4

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: +1 (drops to -1 if the vampire spent Aberrance recently, due to the eldritch glow)

Damage Modifier: -2 (fist or kick), -1 (barbed tongue) or -1 (golden needle)

Armour: Vampire flesh is “rather tenuous; it is soft and a trifle sticky”, and glows faintly at night. It counts as 1 point of Armour.

Shades are composed of a sort of ectoplasm that’s not any more resilient than normal flesh; a shade that’s reincorporated within a vampire regenerates all damage within 24 hours.

Free Powers: Drain, Death Stench, Clockwork Heart

Other Powers:

1-Aberrance: Society of Horrors, Duplication

2-Aberrance: Strength, Vampiric Speed, Sorcery

Banes: Vampire Ash (consuming vampire ash causes a vampire to explode)

Blocks: Running Water (a vampire can cross running water, but only feet-first; shades must be carried across)

Dreads: Fire, Courage (a host of vampires hesitated to attack Merry Bones, and fled when Lord Wellington showed up.)

Compulsions: A captured vampire is compelled to serve and obey its captors, just as a shade is compelled to obey a vampire.

Requirements: Rewinding, feeding.

 

Go Team Vampire!

The major villain of Le Ville Vampire, Monsieur Goetzi, isn’t an especially effective threat – his internal menagerie consists of a bald heiress, a militant urchin, a dog, a murderous parrot, and a serving girl-turned-synovie who ends up betraying him). A more competent vampire could seek out and incorporate a whole team of specialists into itself, and rely on their mastery of mundane skills instead of burning Aberrance on Vampiric Speed and Strength. An elder vampire could be a whole wealthy family or a corporate board of management, discarding and replacing shades to hide its immortal core. Féval’s vampires can feed on animals as well as humans, so a vampire might show up with a built-in horse – or, for that matter, a pair of tigers.

As a vampire’s shades are compelled to obey their master and are inherently trustworthy (as long as regularly ‘debriefed’ by reincorporating them), a vampire could play all sorts of mind games against a team of hunters – is that your Network contact, or the shade of him? The novel brings up the ‘alibi-ity’ of duplication, letting a vampire be in two places at once to confuse players even more – or send disposable minions or even suicide bombers against the players. Finding a way to identify a shade with Diagnosis or Vampirology should be the first priority for the player characters!

Next up – things get even weirder, as we enter the Vampire City!


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 print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

by Lisa Padol

When I first started running the Dracula Dossier, setting up the 1894 group, one of my players wanted a special relationship with Dracula. They wanted to have had their character have met Dracula as a child and for Dracula to have taken a liking to them. After all, the player argued, just because one was an evil serial killer, it didn’t mean that one couldn’t, you know, like someone.

I said no, and while I was correct at the time, it wasn’t for the reason I gave, as I eventually figured out. The reason I gave was that I was holding by what Ken Hite had said: There are no nice vampires. There are no good vampires. There are no vampires who are your PC’s friend.

And this is all correct, but doesn’t actually touch on the real reasons. “This person is first, last, and in between a villain” says nothing about having special relationships with PCs.

No, there were two reasons that I came to realize actually mattered here:

1. You do not get to be the special one in an RPG. EVERYONE needs to be special. 

This has an obvious fix, of course. Give everyone a special relationship. The player wasn’t asking for others not to have this, and multiple special relationships do not dilute the game. They are all unique, just as snowflakes are.

Also,

2. I didn’t yet know enough about my Dracula to figure out how this would work. 

It’s the second that was more important, as we were beginning the campaign at the time. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, who the PCs would be, how they’d interact with each other and with Dracula. I had no idea we’d have a session 0.5 or that one of my players would create a unique Fiasco set for it, or that this would define the starting relationships among the PCs.

The 1894 leg of the campaign was something of a glorious disaster that still worked better than it should have. I was feeling my way with Dracula. I knew he was Nicolaus Olahus, but not what he wanted or how he was planning to get it or how the Edom recruitment plan had been shaped. I used Count De’Ville, and later decided that he was acting far too incompetently to be Dracula. Obviously, he was someone who’d been turned into a vampire by Carmilla, yep, that’s what I meant to do all along.

I created secret passages on the fly, trying to figure out between sessions where they led and why. I dumped far too much of the Hawkins Papers and other handouts on my hapless players, who struggled to figure out what this meant for them, for their characters, and for what they should actually do. I rewrote sections of Dracula and handed four chapters of the reworked novel to players without bothering to highlight the new material.

I spent the time between sessions recalibrating and trying to account for apparent contradictions and gaping holes in what passed for my plot. And, I managed to fit the pieces into a narrative that actually made some amount of sense.

And by the end, though I’m not sure I saw it then, the PCs had special relationships, each one different.

One PC did indeed have an odd relationship with Dracula in play. She was a psychoanalyst who personally knew Freud. Dracula / Olahus was fascinated by this new field of learning, and their relationship grew out of their interaction in the game.

This was the only special relationship with Dracula, but not the only special relationship. The player who made the initial request created a woman who had seen faeries as a child and had married the man who’d bought her family home so that she could continue to look for them.

And she found them. They convinced her to go travel the universe with them, going into a faerie mound. Her NPC husband followed her.

The faeries were actually mi-go, and traveling the universe means what you’d expect. The player created a very different PC, but seemed happy that the original PC and her husband were traveling the galaxy in mi-go brain cannisters. She pointed out that the happy, if deluded, couple could return to the campaign in the present day, something I’m very much contemplating. The mi-go are not Dracula, but are very much a faction in my Dracula Dossier, and, I hope, an interesting one.

Another PC was bitten by Count De’Ville, which was a mistake on my part. Instantly:

  • The player played the PC as trying to cut herself off from the flow of information.
  • The other players made plans without the PC, including plans to deal with the PC fatally, if necessary.

In other words, while the character had a unique relationship with a vampire, the player had less to do. This is not good. I’ve got a rules hack to use for the future which will probably make this sort of thing less of an issue, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the first hint that a PC is compromised cripples player agency. You don’t want to do that.

However, at the end of the 1894 leg of the game, the PC had been freed of vampiric influence. De’Ville was dead. The player thought about this, and decided that the PC would approach Carmilla to say, “Your lieutenant died. I think that means you have an open position. I would like to fill that.”

That was fine because it did use player agency. The PC became mostly an NPC, with one exception: I let the player play her in the 1977 leg, with mixed success, again due to suboptimal GMing calls I made. But, the character is still around and has enjoyed a unique relationship with a vampire that is very different than the psychologist’s unique relationship with a vampire.

One of the other PCs had a special relationship with someone in Edom, and ended the game deciding to take over Edom from the inside and reform it. And, while he was at it, perhaps he’d look into non-vampiric forms of immortality. As with the PC mentioned above, he returned as a PC in 1977, but as with her, he’s mostly mine now.

The final player had a little bit of everything, in a way. His PC felt personally betrayed by De’Ville because the PC used De’Ville’s diary from his vampire hunting days as a Symbol. Destroying De’Ville made him feel vindicated. He was also a close ally and friend of the PC who psychoanalyzed Dracula, and they had friendly arguments over various symptoms of vampirisim and What It All Meant.

And, he was the half-brother of the woman who went off with the faeries. Two of the other PCs had seen through the mi-go illusion and were shaken, but he was not. He stayed in his half-sister’s ancestral home, training her son in the ways of hunting vampires, and eventually joined his half-sister and her husband on their travels throughout the galaxy.

As should be obvious, the 1894 leg was full of bumps, fits and starts, and mistakes, but was also a fair amount of fun and set the foundation for the rest of the campaign (which… also involved a lot of mistakes, including a repeat of the one involving compromising a PC). We’ve been playing on and off for about five years, I think, and are now in the final leg of Dracula Dossier, set in 2015, starting with the death of Sir Christopher Lee.

The group has changed a little, as folks dropped in and out of the various mini-campaigns and one-shots. It currently has 5 players, 4 of whom were in the original 1894 leg.

Well before the 2015 leg started, I got a similar request from a different player, a request that her PC have a special relationship with Dracula, for Dracula to be obsessed or fascinated with this PC, who, like her 1894 PC, is a psychoanalyst. The player wants to have a chance to resolve some of the issues we never were able to bring to a satisfying climax.

As before, my gut reaction was “No!”, but this time, I was well aware that my gut was incorrect.

For the 1894 leg, I couldn’t agree to anything specific in terms of the relationships folks would have with Dracula because I didn’t even know who he was. For the 2015 leg, I know EXACTLY who Dracula is now. I know what he wants and why and how he plans to get it. Sure, there are details I need to work out, but I know why he might have a special relationship with the player’s character and how that might work, at least as we begin play.

I am not sure I can provide the closure the player wants. While a valid concern, it is not, however, a reason not to try. We’ll have to check in with each other to make sure we’re not misinterpreting things, but that’s true in any RPG.

And one thing the player had the 1894 PC say stuck with me. She said that she was Nicolaus’s last chance, that he’d steadily lose what little empathy he had left with humanity. And I think it makes sense that she was correct. And I also think that, whether or not the 1894 PC and the vampire ever met again, in some way, Nicolaus never stopped arguing with her in his mind. Both were disappointed in each other, and… by all rights, there should be play in this.

And, as for the Special Snowflake issue, and the answer is not “No, you don’t get to be the Special One with the Special Relationship to Dracula.” There are better answers.

One is to give everyone a special relationship to Dracula of some kind.

Another is to give everyone a special relationship to someone who, if not Dracula, is as cool as Dracula in their own way. I have a lot of pieces in play, including the mi-go who are also the faeries and who also run the Scholomance (and one of the other PCs accepted an invitation to take a whirlwind tour of Mars and Jupiter. Her brain has since been restored to her body), several different factions of Edom, an Israeli counterpart of Edom, and walking products of elder thing technology, all of whom are represented by NPCs (some of whom are former PCs). And that’s before we get to Edward Kelley / Abraham van Helsing…

There really is enough specialness to go around.


Lisa Padol has been running GUMSHOE since Eternal Lies came out. She needs to remind herself that she doesn’t have time to playtest everything for Trail of Cthulhu, the Yellow King RPG, and Night’s Black Agents.


The Dracula Dossier reveals that Dracula is not a novel. It’s the censored version of Bram Stoker’s after-action report of the failed British Intelligence attempt to recruit a vampire in 1894. Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have restored the deleted sections, inserting annotations and clues left by three generations of MI6 analysts. This is Dracula UnredactedFollow those clues to the Director’s Handbook, containing hundreds of encounters: shady NPCs, dangerous locations, conspiratorial nodes, and mysterious objects. Together they comprise The Dracula Dossier — an epic improvised, collaborative campaign for Night’s Black Agents, our award-winning vampire spy thriller RPG. Purchase the Dracula Dossier starter kit bundle in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Big Bloody Spoilers for both The Zalozhniy Quartet and The Persephone Extraction in this article. Don’t read if you’re a Night’s Black Agents player. Here, have some deliberate disinformation so you don’t accidentally read anything important.

 

  • DRACULA’S BEHIND EVERYTHING

 

  • EDOM STANDS FOR ENGLISH DEFENDERS OF MAGIC

 

  • YOU ARE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE VAMPIRES

 

  • IT’S ALL THE OCEAN GAME.

 

  • STAY ALERT TRUST NO-ONE KEEP YOUR LASER SIGHT HANDY

 

  • PELGRANE’S GOING TO LICENSE COUNT DUCKULA FOR A GUMSHOE KIDS/NBA CROSSOVER ANY DAY NOW

Continue reading »

A group of unknown antagonists recently rescued a reporter from a kill squad in Marrakesh; they were then spotted in London at the site of an assassination. What follows is an intercepted internal memo from a mysterious organization calling itself EDOM. Interested agents who want a more detailed account of the events as they transpired should click here.

 

by Noah Lloyd

Just because you’re physically distancing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be social, and what better way to stay social than by finding ways to play some of your favorite games? Pelgrane Press is on all the major virtual tabletops – and then some! I’ve collated some of our products, specially designed for your internet-based play, below:

Roll20

Roll20 is the virtual tabletop with the largest userbase out there at the moment, with both free and premium account options. Roll20 has official character sheets for both GUMSHOE (optimized for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents) and 13th Age. Additionally, we’ve got three modules for 13th Age all available for download on Roll20 right now, one of which is absolutely free, and the other two of which have 20% off until September:

In the coming days we’ll also be releasing a free Trail of Cthulhu scenario, “Midnight Sub Rosa,” which was originally collected in Out of the Woods. Watch our twitter (and this space!) for when it goes live.

And, if you didn’t know, you can also grab the Hillfolk Card Deck as an add on in Roll20, which will add some inspiration to your Hillfolk and DramaSystem games.

Fantasy Grounds

Fantasy Grounds is a premium-only service that offers expanded virtual tabletop services. We’ve got two officially licensed 13th Age products available for all you Fantasy Grounders:

We’re working on building more modules on this VTT, so if you’re a Fantasy Grounds developer, let us know!

Astral Tabletop

Astral Tabletop is a newcomer in VTT-land, but that doesn’t mean that their services aren’t top-notch and unique – and, they’ve made all their paid services free through the end of May. They have a particularly robust dice rolling syntax that they’re consistently expanding, and I was impressed by their animated maps (though this can be tough on folks with poor internet connections).

I have been hard at work making official character sheets for use with your Pelgrane games; while these, unfortunately, aren’t quite ready as of this See Page XX, they should be ready very soon. We’ll be providing templates for 13th Age, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, TimeWatch, and (drumroll) the Yellow King RPG. What other Pelgrane games would you like to see support for? Help me prioritize!

That said, don’t think that just because our official sheets aren’t quite ready yet, that you can’t get a lot out of Astral. I encourage you to play through their tutorial, see what it has to offer, and get a group together!

And don’t be dissuaded by my failure to finish the character sheets! There are plenty of other ways to play online.

Discord, Slack, and Zoom

If you aren’t interested in specially designed virtual tabletops for your roleplaying games, don’t overlook the ease and usefulness of simplified chat and networking applications like Discord, Slack, and Zoom. Games like Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents (indeed, all our GUMSHOE games) don’t usually need maps for their scenarios, and they’re well-suited to playing in the “theater of the mind.” However, Slack’s free version only supports two-person video calls (perfect for a One-2-One game!), and Zoom’s free version restricts calls to 40 minutes. For those reasons, my personal favorite app to roleplay on is Discord, which supports multi-person video calls, simple voice channels folks can jump in and out of, and the creation of dedicated servers for each of your games, if that’s how you want to roll.

(When you sign up for Discord, they provide you with your own private server, and there are bots you can add which will even serve as simple dice rollers! I really like Sidekick, who I’ve happily nicknamed “Roll Buddy.”)

Speaking of which, did you know that we have a Discord server? If you’ve got a Discord account set up, you can find us here: https://discord.gg/xKfgxVm

On our Discord you’ll find two channels that are particularly relevant to this discussion. If you’re a GM and you want to find some folks to fill those slots in a Nights Black Agents roster, go ahead and post in “looking for players.” Similarly, if you want to find a game to join, you can either post in “looking for games” or keep an eye out in “looking for players” the next time a GM puts out a suitable invite.

If you’re not gaming but still want to talk about all things Pelgrane, we’ve got dedicated channels in the Discord for each of our game systems, and we’d love it if you came to say hello.

If Discord, Slack, or Zoom are more your speed than an official VTT, remember that you can find hundreds of digital products—adventures, core rulebooks, supplements, even music—over on the Pelgrane webstore.

by Adam Gauntlett

Running all over Europe shooting vampires attracts attention from governments, police agencies, and other unsympathetic official observers. Night’s Black Agents represents this attention, and the concomitant investigations and pursuits, with the abstract value of Heat.

If you make it go Boom, there are consequences. What should those consequences be? How can they be put into effect?

Heat comes from illegal, particularly flamboyantly illegal, actions. Stealing a car gets a bit of Heat. Blowing up Parliament gets a ton of Heat, and probably a sniper’s bullet right between the eyes. However, what the Director needs to understand is, Heat isn’t personal. The authorities don’t know that it’s bang-and-burner Fibber McGee who’s been blowing up all those police stations. They just know there’s a lot of smoking craters where police stations used to be, and are very keen to arrest whoever’s been doing it. So more cops get put on the road, the investigation team gets larger, special contingency schemes are activated, and, in truly awful situations, domestic intelligence agencies, or military agencies, get involved. All this increases Heat, and thus make it more likely that Fibber and his partner(s) in chaos will encounter official resistance.

This means more overt signs of domestic turmoil. Wherever Fibber and his pals go, there are road blocks and stop-and-searches. The underworld shuts down, because the cops are closing down every den of vice they can find. If the police don’t usually go about armed, now they do. If they are usually armed, then they’re even more trigger-happy than before. Soldiers or special forces become common sights. All this, of course, before anyone makes a die roll. The agents smacked the wasps’ nest with a baseball bat; now the wasps retaliate.

So right away you can see one function of Heat: to provide consequence for outrageous actions. Which in turn encourages the agents to save up the really crazy stuff for when it’s necessary, as opposed to going full Terminator whenever they see a police station.

Now let’s look at specific Heat call-outs in the rules. Heat increases Difficulty, and Heat shuts down access to the Black Market.

Let’s say the agents have earned 5 or more points of Heat. That means the Difficulty for all suitable General tests goes up from base 4 to base 5, because the Difficulty is now based on Heat. Going through airport security, breaking into Government IT instillations, Network tests and similar – basically, all the subtle, sneaky, bluff-and-diplomacy options become trickier to pull off. So Throckmorton P. Gildersneeve, the team’s hacker and cracker, is going to find it much more difficult to get into even the least well protected of networks.

Here Heat serves as a complicating factor. It’s not directly affecting the agents, but its indirect effects can be catastrophic. This in turn forces the agents to think about their Heat, and how to lower it before a disastrous General check ruins them for good. It doesn’t mean as much to Molly’s Parkour checks, because those shan’t be affected by Heat – but how often does an operation’s success depend entirely on Parkour?

To reinforce this, the Director should enforce this rule as soon as it comes into effect – so as soon as Heat hits 5 or more – and keep hammering away at it for as long as Heat remains at that level. Keeping Heat, and thus Difficulty, high, means the agents will be spending more from pools, and risking greater negative effects every time they make relevant General tests.

Then there’s the Black Market option, or, as I like to think of it, the Banhammer. If Belulah the Wetworker wants to buy guns, she’s got to go to the Market, but if Fibber’s been raising the Heat to unacceptable levels, then this could be costly. If Belulah’s total Streetwise pool plus the number of points spent is less than the team’s total Heat, she gets betrayed by the dealer, in some way. This doesn’t have to mean a fight. It could mean she gets defective goods, or is sold a nice, reliable American assault rifle – you know, the ones with the RFID markers, easily traced.

Notice that team Heat affects the team. It might be Fibber who got a little too bang-happy, but everyone pays the price. This is called Collective Punishment; it’s been with us since the 2nd Century BC, at least. Under Collective Punishment, everyone in the group pays for the sins of one member of the group. “Private Pyle … has dishonored himself … and dishonored the platoon,” as Full Metal Jacket’s Gunny Hartman puts it. By letting everyone know that it was Private Pyle who earned the platoon pushups, Gunny Hartman bullies the platoon into helping Hartman police Pyle. “I have tried to help him, but I have failed. I have failed because you have not helped me. You people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation.”

The Director should never have to worry about Heat. The Director should welcome Heat. It’s the agents who should worry, because with each point of Heat their lives become more and more complicated. They might all rack up Heat heedlessly, stealing cars, getting into fights, and then get wide-eyed and cautious when Heat reaches toxic levels, and options become unavailable, or too costly to pursue. If they know that they’ll all have to pay for the actions of one, they’ll start policing the one, leading to conflict – and conflict is the engine of Drama.

Let’s go through an example. The team is Fibber the bang-and-burner, Molly the black bagger, Belulah the wetworker, and Throckmorton the hacker. Fibber, the scamp, has been up to his old tricks, and the team’s Heat is 6.

They’re just coming from a scene in which Belulah, in search of weapons, was betrayed by her black market contact, and a fight broke out. All of them got dinged, but the worst was Throckmorton, who’s now Hurt.

Now they’re going into a scene that involves breaking into a Conspiracy installation. It has to be tonight, for plot reasons. They don’t have an easy or quick way to drain Heat, so they’re going in with the Difficulties and penalties appropriate for Heat 6.

Throckmorton could have used Digital Intrusion to change the police database, but he’s Hurt and facing increased Difficulty. He felt the risk wasn’t worth it, especially since he needs his pool for the Infiltration scene, and hasn’t got an easy way to refresh, in the time available. Molly might have tried something similar with Disguise, but she doesn’t have many pool points left after a test earlier in the session. None of the rest of the group have any applicable General abilities, so there’s no chance of getting rid of the Heat before the operation.

Already nerves are on edge, and the other three are snapping at Fibber, who got them into this.

Now they have to break in. When they cased the joint earlier, the guard regime was patchy and their internet security was a joke. Not any more. All the cunning options have Difficulty 6; cop cars drive past the front gate every fifteen minutes, and the Conspiracy’s IT guru is busy on-site, ensuring all that precious data stays secure. After all, the Conspiracy isn’t dumb. If Government installations are upgrading security because police stations are vanishing in puffs of logic, the local Node is at the very least going to change the locks on the front door.

Fibber, anxious to regain group favor, says he’s Prepared for this. “All the Conspiracy bigwigs ride around in those fancy black cars, and carry special ID, right? Well, it just so happens I’ve got that exact kind of car, with the fake IDs to go with it, and some of those off-the-rack suits they like to wear. That should get us past the front gate, right?” Fibber’s plan is a success, and with the advantage gained through Preparedness, the group gets past the front gate.  Throckmorton stays behind, using his hacking skills to take over the security cameras and guide the agents through. Besides, he’s already Hurt, and getting shot at isn’t in his job description.

Unfortunately for Throckmorton, Difficulty’s up, and the Director isn’t telling him by how much. He rolls the dice, and gets a dirty success – high enough to succeed, but below Heat & Hurt levels. So the Director decides that the IT guru spots his attempt and lets it succeed, so the IT guru can backtrack the feed and find out where the attack is coming from.

Meanwhile the team’s getting on with the job, and are close to the objective. Not all of the group has Infiltration, so Molly’s pools have been draining rapidly to cope with this and the higher Difficulty. Now they’re in position, but there’s a bunch of guards between them and the objective. “That’s new,” says Belulah, as she gets her silenced weapon out. She wonders if she can earn the Hush Puppy achievement. That pool refresh is looking pretty tasty, after the black market fight drained her combat pools.

“Uh … guys?” says Throckmorton, over the coms. “There’s … uhh, there’s a bunch of scary spec ops-looking dudes, converging on my location. Can I get a little help?”

“Don’t worry!” Fibber gets out one of his special little packages. “I Prepared for this, too!”

The night is ripped apart by the all-too-familiar noise of high explosives going off, and, in the distance, police sirens.

“Hey! Big Ba-Da-Boom!” says Fibber.

“Great,” reply his unenthusiastic teammates.

Over the years, we’ve released a number of one-shot adventures for our systems during Free RPG Day, and we often get messages asking us for the PDFs. As we know everyone’s looking for more gaming opportunities at the moment, we’ve collected them all here, now.

All we ask is that if you download, run and enjoy these adventures, you consider making a donation to Doctors Without Borders, to assist in their efforts to fight the coronavirus COVID-19.

Donate to Doctors Without Borders

 

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