Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Let's Read: The Dracula Dossier (Operation Edom: Eyes Only Briefing)

After the Foreword and the biblical quote referring to Lillith and Edom, we run into a short, succinct inciting incident for the whole campaign:

"In 1893, a visionary British Naval Intelligence Department spymaster codenamed 'Peter Hawkins' launched a plan to recruit the perfect spy: a vampire."

I can already see the scene with the crew, hunted by vampires and their thralls, knee-deep in sorting out warring conspiracies, then having this little nugget of info dropped in their laps. Cue the swearing, shaking of heads, and sarcastic revisitings of the ironic phrase: "What could possibly go wrong?"

And then, we're treated to a two page summary of what has happened as a result of the green lighting of that audacious, perilous decision from 1893 to the present. It is at this point that I run into one of my weaknesses -- dates and timelines.

A naked year or date often makes my mind go blank, unless I get lucky (or someone helpfully tosses out a name, incident, or location), as I scramble to establish the context. Fortunately, as I went through the general broad eras of the campaign, there were helpful labels that I kept in mind as I read the overviews of multiple generations of operatives somehow continuously thinking that the inciting incident above idea was a good one, and might just need some tweaking to make it work this time.

So, to my mind, the eras were:

  • Classic Dracula (actual book subtitle: Bold Experiments)
  • World War II (actual book subtitle: Desperate Measures)
  • The Cold War (actual book subtitle: Hidden Hunts)
  • Modern Day (actual book subtitle: Black Assets)

One thing that also made it difficult to follow, my date / timeline weakness notwithstanding, was the necessary vagueness regarding key events during these eras. Since the actual events and conspiracies will be filled up in the conspyramid as the sandbox investigative campaign moves on, most of the unfolding events in the summaries were done on broad strokes, to leave space for the players and the Director to play in.

Reactions to Classic Dracula

"A meet was set and made, a safe house and a headquarters in England prepared. Then it all started to go wrong."

This is the one I'm most comfortable with, as it's the type of stuff I expected from the main premise -- the novel Dracula being a sanitised version of the original after-action report of the failed op. Some historically resonant names and links to Bram Stoker. I do like the references to earthquakes coinciding with vampiric power, even if I'm not so sold on telluric vampires yet.

It seems to me that part of the joy of playing in, or uncovering the events in this era would stem primarily on how the true events diverged from the fictional account.

Reactions to World War II

"Rather than bring Dracula to England, however, this time the plan was simply to let him out and turn him against the Hitler-allied Antonescu government — if necessary, to back him as Romania’s new leader."

Quite on board with using Dracula in time of desperate need for Britain, when it was alone in Europe against the rising tide of expansionist warfare. However, my lack of knowledge in the lesser known theatres of war during WWII make it hard for me to envision what happened here, beyond the generic SNAFU labels and Murphy's Law invocations. (Note: read up on Antonescu and Romania in World War II).

At this point, tempting as a Dirty Dozen meets Castle Dracula exploit might be, this seems to be more of an interesting era to uncover clues, history, and trace how certain artifacts found their way into the hands of modern operators. It's the closest era, of course, to the original Edom operation -- and many innovations in modern espionage have their birth during this time.

Or perhaps one of the capstones at the end can serve as a climactic ending for this era?

(Aside: funny, I'm getting a hint of a Blackadder vibe to each era as a season. The same souls drawn back into each era as Dracula re-emerges to further his plans?)

Reactions to The Cold War

"Edom needed to find Dracula’s leavebehind network in London — after all, the analysts realized in retrospect, he had had months to build it back in 1894, and the power to keep it alive long after his seeming demise."

The closest era to modern day, and the classic espionage era (James Bond, I-Spy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., George Smiley, and a certain novel known as Declare). And while Edom was certainly questionable from the beginning, the background of this era -- with mole hunts and double agents and defections and betrayals -- makes it very inviting to run. Of course, my relative ignorance beyond cinematic tradecraft would hamstring me a bit, but for me this is the quintessential Government Spies vs. Vampires period. It should be noted that I have memories of a vampire in a Starsky & Hutch episode, so even a U.S. interlude or two wouldn't be out of place.

At this point, however, the campaign seems very daunting. Starting from the modern era and working backwards seems like more of a challenge than the chronological play-through -- but then, how would the actual Dracula Dossier artefact be used?

Then again, since I'm barely into the book, I'm sure that these questions and more are addressed later.

Reactions to Modern Day

"She began to keep her own record, annotating the Dossier as her predecessors had. She gave herself the workname “Hopkins” as she annotated the bloody fingerprints of Edom — and the trail of corpses left by Dracula."

Oh, there it is -- the narrative hook explained. Since Night's Black Agents is more of Jason Bourne meets Dracula, there is more of that independent operator vibe here.

Right now, it occurs to me that the introduction of Dracula has to be handled very well -- the campaign bears his foul name, after all -- and he cannot be introduced as campy or as a joke. Somehow the tone has to be sustained as the players are brought into the campaign and peel away the layers of secrets and deaths to be presented with choices and threats.

It also seems to be that, given this two-page set of broad stroke events and 'secrets' of the default campaign background, both the initial era and the modern era are most clear in my mind. The middle eras are a mess of questions and actual historical events and classic tropes for now in my mind.

I may be detouring from the linear reading of the back. Definitely need to see the proposed defaults and spines, but then I may jump ahead a bit to see some juicy characters, locations, and macguffins before returning to the earlier sections.

We'll see!

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