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!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Let's Read: The Dracula Dossier (TOC and Skim)

The Dracula Dossier is a massive reading endeavour. In addition to the Director's Handbook, there's the Dracula Unredacted document, and Hawkin's Papers. So where to start?

Director's Handbook

Started with this, because it promises to provide the overall framework of the campaign and should explain how Dracula Unredacted (the original after-action report that was redacted and rewritten into the novel we know as Dracula) and Hawkin's Papers (various in-game artifacts and in-game documents that help reveal the mystery) fit into the running of the game.

I suppose that when trying to understand how to run what is essentially a sandbox investigative game (!), it's best to understand what the default / likely scenario(s) will be, before attempting your own spin.

As usual, I did a quick review of the Table of Contents (TOC) and skim through the pages, to get my bearings -- an overview, identify areas of interest to skip ahead to, become familiar with terms.

Table of Contents

Foreword, Operation Edom, How To Use This Book

Comfortingly, the first few chapters and sections do take the time to quickly explain what all the books are used for, what the default campaign might be like (with suggestions for variety and customisation), and some key questions that a sharp-minded Director might want answered right away, before going any further (such as: "In Life, Which Historical Figure, If Any, Was Dracula?").

The 1894 Network, Opposition Forces, People

Then, it moves on to detail the various characters from the 1894 Network and to the modern era. The book gives options for each character being exactly what they seem to be, or as an agent of Edom, a minion of Dracula, or some other twist that will not only keep your Players on their toes, but will offer satisfying twists and turns to your campaign.

Nodes, Locations, Objects

There is a LOT of material here for allies, enemies, third parties that may or may not oppose you. There are also fleshed out Nodes (organisations, corporations, conspiracies) to complicate matters for your players, various key Locations across Europe and in the United States and Israel that your players may want to visit (or be spirited away to), and some Objects of interest that may provide clues (like Renfield's Journal) or valuable anti-vampire utility (like Vanderpool Garlic) or unwanted violent attention due to its value (like the Cameos of Dracula).

Scenario Spines & Capstones

There are three scenario spines provided (London Heat, Covering Our Tracks, For the Dead Talk Fast), all of which give Directors a good idea of the types of scenarios that can be used to introduce players to the overall campaign, and give a feel of how some improvisation might go while running it.

There are four capstones provided (Zalmoxis Rising, Dracula's Mill, Russian Roulette, The Tomb of Dracula) which give you options, or perhaps seed ideas, on how you can end your overall campaign on a climactic note.

All these are structured in such a way that it makes comparing and comprehending the materials relatively straightforward, even as a Director might already be planning modifications to the materials provided.

Campaign Frames, Looking Glass: Bucharest, and Indices

The Campaign Frames are interesting -- apparently some non-traditional / high-challenge level campaigns for the advanced Director -- but will require more detailed analysis when I get to it.

Looking Glass: Bucharest gives some much-needed detail to this exotic campaign location.

Indices helps you find things in the book, that you might need at a critical campaign prep (or game running) juncture.


Seems like a very meaty book to dive into. So, we'll get to that in the next instalment!

Friday, November 13, 2015

On The Radar: Equinox

The Equinox RPG ( by Vagrant Workshop is out. But wait -- it was already out in 2012, right? And then out again at the end of 2014 (right when I started my new job, which is probably why I missed it)?

A bit confused, but will figure it out later, because there are several books for it:

Based on naming conventions, some of the write-ups, and the bundles in RPGNow (see below), there are at least two different rulesets (Match System or Storygame) for the setting:
Also, according to the Setting Guide, you're free to approach the setting (if you didn't already know that you're allowed to used whatever ruleset you want) with you whatever ruleset you want:

"You should be able to play in the equinox setting with any generic game system available. Cortex, D20 Future, Fate, HERO, GURPS, Savage Worlds, Open D6, TriStat, Unisystem, etc—all of these feature all the mechanics needed for this and come with guidelines for adapting futuristic settings. Just add a shot of magic!
In case you seek to make your adaption 'official:' we’re open for submissions. Contact us and we’ll find a way to get your rules adaption out in the open."

Sounds like a plan. Time to add these to the read pile! Setting first, of course.