I know I’ve got to talk about The Dracula Dossier, but I’m not sure what I can tell you. What’s the point of giving you a sneak peek when you can back the Kickstarter and see the whole Director’s Handbook, all 280+ pages of it, just like that? I could tell you where to click to hear or read me and Gar talk about our beautiful monster that drains our time like … like … like some sort of supernatural draining entity, probably with a noble title, I wonder what that would be. But the Update I linked to already did that. As does this one.
No, this time I think I’ll talk about a road not taken, about something I’ve deliberately stopped myself from putting into The Dracula Dossier. So far.
What are you going to do with me? You can’t let me go, can you? … It’s a bad habit, I know, but it helps me to concentrate.
– Lorrimer van Helsing
It turns out that The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the Hammer not-particularly-classic film from 1974, is in the public domain. In other words, I have at my disposal a story in which an MI6 agent named Hanson uncovers a Satanic cult in Britain led by a mysterious Chinese femme fatale, Chin Yang. It includes: an MP and government Minister, John Porter; a peer, Lord Carradine; General Sir Arthur Freeborne; and Julian Keeley, a prominent bacteriologist, who develops a super-plague at the behest of “D.D. Denham,” who is (of course) Count Dracula in disguise. We’ve got yet another MI6 agent (Edom, obviously), named Peter Torrance, and a possible Duke of Edom in Colonel Matthews, who deliberately keeps the case out of the main MI6 view. We’ve also got two superb Legacies: Lorrimer van Helsing and his granddaughter Jessica. (And maybe a third, if “Inspector Murray of the Yard” is descended from Mina.) We could have pictures of the fetching Joanna Lumley in our book and none could say us nay!
Except for two things. First, I’ll bet someone thinks they could say us nay. The laws of image rights and IP in general are murky enough without tying multi-national jurisdiction into it the way a book published in Britain and printed in America would wind up doing. And second, it sort of monkeys with our Operation Edom backstory enough that I couldn’t have slid it in seamlessly. The closest Romanian earthquake is November 1973 which could work except that The Satanic Rites of Dracula is a sequel to Dracula A.D. 1972 which aside from not being in the public domain (and there goes Dracula’s hip teen-appeal sidekick, Johnny Alucard, dammit) also takes place (as you might expect) in 1972. Now with enough work, you can make it fit: there are earthquakes in 1972 (in Yorkshire) and 1974 (in Wales) that can be called to service — Dracula’s in Britain, after all! — and you can move the dates around a bit (or back to a 1970 earthquake in Cumbria) and ascribe them to Hammer Films’ fudging of the actual Edom reports, which they found after some doubtless drug-fueled Soho orgy. (I am morally certain that if I had the time to do the research I could one-degree-of-separation personnel from Hammer Films and the British security state of the 1970s.) And when Edom put the clamps on in response to the leak, that’s what drove Hammer out of business in 1979. Very satisfying, all bows tied off.
But even that pales next to the other temptation that I have — so far! — resisted. Image rights would definitely trip us up here, especially in Britain which is not well known for easygoing libel laws either. (And it is a little over the top, and kind of a lot meta.) But in a blog post, I can speculate about what I might have done. And if you do it in the privacy of your own game, who’s to know? Anyhow, gather close. Edom runs its own unit within the SOE in 1940, sending a team including a commando named “Van Sloan” into Romania to re-awaken Dracula, the only survivor of that doomed mission. You know this by now. But guess what other hero was in the SOE, as it happens? Sir Christopher Lee, that’s who.
Now Lee officially joined the SOE in 1941 after washing out of RAF flight school in conveniently distant and hard-to-check South Africa. But we don’t officially know what Sir Christopher Lee was doing between leaving Finland in 1939 (!) and going into the RAF in 1941. A patriot, son of a soldier, and total badass like Christopher Lee wouldn’t just sit around, would he? No. He’d join a secret unit within a secret unit, he’d parachute into Romania to save it from the Nazis, and he’d be the only survivor of that operation, emerging with an almost supernatural understanding of … Count Dracula. And he’d stay in touch, a helpful tip here, a nod there, as he kept up the perfect cover of movie star — jet-setting around the world, lots of unaccountable free time and money, hob-nobbing with the rich and famous, not like a spy (or his fellow SOE comrade Ian Fleming) at all. There’d be no reason to suspect that Christopher Lee was once “Van Sloan,” the Man Who Lived — and less than no reason to suspect him of being “D” … the enigmatic head of Operation Edom to this very day.
Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring.
Ken Hite takes on Dracula!
A new edition of Stoker’s novel that tells the real story; and an improvised spy thriller campaign for Night’s Black Agents RPG.
Two Books. One Mission.
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 has restored the deleted sections, inserting annotations and clues left by three generations of MI6 analysts. This is Dracula Unredacted.
Follow 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.
The mission: Hunt and kill Dracula now, once and for all, before Britain falls to him forever.
Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action – at least, according to the apocryphal Moscow Rules.
Our kickstarter for the Dracula Dossier was due to launch on October 17th. That target was, perhaps, overly ambitious. While we’d completed the draft of the Director’s Handbook – the mammoth compendium of conspiracies, connections, criminals and, um, carotid-craving critters – by then, it took longer than we planned to put together all the other assets.
Like the gorgeous draft layout.
Like the mock-up of the still-in-progress Dracula Unredacted novel, complete with its annotations by three generations of MI6 analysts.
The pitch videos.
The second, considerably more relaxed takes for the pitch videos. (There are reasons why writers rarely crave the spotlight!)
The draft covers for both books, by Dennis Detwiller and Jerome Hugenin.
The map of Europe, so we can track the progress of Mina Harker and Van Helsing in our little game within the kickstarter.
And, of course, all the behind-the-scenes juggling of numbers and stretch goals and pledge levels, so we can deliver the best possible books at the most affordable price while not diving the Pelgrane off a financial cliff. A well-executed kickstarter is a wondrous thing; a badly-planned or unlucky one can become a hellish millstone.
So, the 17th didn’t happen. But the 31st of October! All Hallow’s Eve, a night to conjure with! A night, no doubt when blue flames blaze above hidden graves and treasure troves in Transyvania, a night when spies skulk down alleyways in London and Bucharest, a night of terror and magic and…
… a night when the Pelgrane internet connection went mysteriously offline.
(Actually, it was the day before, but this makes for a better story).
Co-incidence, you say. A mere glitch. You may be right.
Our new official launch date for the Dracula Dossier kickstarter is
If it doesn’t launch on that day, we must discard both accident and co-incidence as possibilities, leaving only enemy action as the only explanation – and if that’s the case, then run, because we’ll already be dead and you know too much already, so HE will be on your trail too.
So pray, gentle reader, that the kickstarter launches on Monday. Tell your friends. Better yet, tell your enemies – maybe they’ll slow Dracula down when he goes hunting.
In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk gaming homework, Bram Stoker, recommendations and Marie Antoinette.
We’re burning the midnight witch-fires cramming ever more blood into The Dracula Dossier to get ready for the onrushing Kickstarter. (Which has been delayed a bit past the projected October 17th date you might have heard, thanks to the kinds of weird micro-crises that are apparently inevitable once you announce your Kickstarter date. Next time, for sure.) As currently constituted, you may recall, The Dracula Dossier comprises two books: Dracula Unredacted, Bram Stoker’s suppressed after-action report on the 1894 Operation Edom attempt to recruit Dracula as an asset for British Intelligence, further annotated by three generations of MI6 agents and analysts; and the Director’s Handbook, which provides the 54 disreputable NPCs, 16 devious Nodes, and 13 dubious Objects (all those numbers will increase with stretch goals, obviously) to which Dracula Unredacted provides the clues. Each of those entries has three different states (usually some variation of “Innocent, Edom, or Conspiracy”); the 30 dangerous Locations each have two states (“Cool” and “Warm”); so there are a total of 309 different Encounters in the Director’s Handbook alone. And that, like I said, is before we start adding stretch goals, like, oh, the Order of the Golden Dawn, or Iceland, or Elizabeth Bathory. Ooops, I’ve said too much.
Here’s one (or three) of those Encounters, an NPC, tied both to the novel (Van Helsing’s “friend Arminius of Buda-Pesth”) and to real history. Ármin Vámbéry (1832-1913) was a linguist and scholar, explorer of currently action-packed Central Asia (Uzbekistan is almost as hostile to inquisitive foreigners now as it was in 1863), propagandist, and British spy (against the Russians and Islamic radicals, plus ça change). You don’t have to use Dracula in your game to make use of a Hungarian fixer with mysterious connections all over Europe — “the Hungarian” might be connected to any number of secret vampiric conspiracies. Replace “the 1977 mole hunt” with whatever mysterious event in your campaign’s backstory you want the players to start asking about — when a man in a $10,000 suit says, in a Bela Lugosi accent, “But you must first understand, my friends, that the Munich bombing was none of my affair and I know very little of the details” you have a table of players who have just sworn in their hearts to follow those details to the ends of the earth. Even into Uzbekistan, if they must.
Name: Ágost Vámbéry
Hungarian names are more correctly written surname-first, i.e., Vámbéry Ágost.
Possible Role: Fixer or contact in Hungary and Transylvania
Description: mid-40s, high forehead, dark wavy hair, walks with a cane
Innocent: Ágost is a descendant of Ármin Vámbéry (1832-1913), Van Helsing’s “friend Arminius of Buda-Pesth.” He moved to Hungary from New York after getting his MBA from Princeton in 1989 and set up a wildcat investment bank to pour American capital into Eastern Europe … and to launder Russian and former Communist oligarch money pouring into the West. He’s immune to social, political, and physical pressure: he can hire the best hostesses, legislators, and bodyguards available. He flies from city to city and party to party in Europe, Dubai, the Caribbean, and other fleshpots, constantly on the move from five-star hotel to five-star resort. Agents credibly claiming a few billion to invest (High Society, and possibly Accounting and Forgery) can get his attention long enough to have his P.A. hire a researcher to scan his great-grandfather’s correspondence, looking for letters from Van Helsing for “an interested collector.”
Asset: Like his great-grandfather, he keeps a wary eye on the Balkans for British intelligence, especially after the Yugoslavian civil war nearly toppled his fiscal house of cards. Needing liquidity and protection, he expanded his services: he now runs networks in the Balkans for MI6, DGSE, BND, and both the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA. He also does “one-off” favors for FSB agents hunting Chechen and other terrorists. By now aware he’s over his head, his continuous travel is a defensive measure to shake all but the best-funded and most persistent surveillance.
Using Tradecraft sets up a meet; agents who can either swap information (Negotiation) or make a credible offer of secure retirement and protection (Reassurance) can find out what Vámbéry knows about the 1977 mole hunt (a not inconsiderable amount once he shakes his older sources), get access to his great-grandfather’s correspondence with Van Helsing, and possibly find out what Edom is up to in Romania right now. At the Director’s discretion, Vámbéry – like his great-grandfather — may know about vampires (Vampirology notes his precautions at a meet, such as convenient mirrors).
Minion: As Asset, except that Dracula has already gotten to Vámbéry. His travel is a desperate attempt to keep running water between him and the vampire, but in his terrified heart he knows he’s dead when Dracula says he’s dead. When the agents approach him, he provides faked “Van Helsing” letters (Forgery will notice discrepancies) or other bad intel setting them up for an ambush by Dracula’s soldiers or, if things have gotten dire enough, by Dracula himself.
Alternate Names: Laila Vámbéry, János Nagy, Zoltán Hivje [the latter two have access to Van Helsing’s letters for unknown reasons, or just have information about the 1977 mole hunt]
Alternate Descriptions: (1): early 30s, shiny European-tailored suit, no necktie but high collar [Oxford, 1997; MBA Harvard, 1999]
(2): early 60s, thick lips, overweight masked by expert London tailoring, designer eyeglasses [grandson instead of great-grandson; involved directly in 1977 mole hunt]
(3): late 50s, slow and deliberate, sharp chin and nose [grandson instead of great-grandson; involved directly in 1977 mole hunt]
Defining Quirks: (1) conducts all important business in his Jaguar XJR or on his Gulfstream IV; (2) slips in and out of a Hungarian accent; (3) toys with heavy gold ring
Academic and Technical Abilities: Accounting, Bureaucracy, High Society, Human Terrain, Languages, Tradecraft, [Vampirology]
General Abilities: Driving 3, Gambling 6, Network 15, Piloting 3, Preparedness 5
Alertness Modifier: +1
Stealth Modifier: +0
The action in the original Dracula novel takes place in a handful of locations – Transylvania, Whitby, London, and then back again. The Dracula Dossier expands the reach of the vampire count, and brings in the globe-trotting vampire-hunting action one expects in a Night’s Black Agents campaign. England and Romania – Edom and Dracula – are the two poles around which conspiratorial currents flow, but your agents might find themselves taking the occasional unexpected detour. In my own playtest campaign, the team ended up blowing up a large chunk of Tmogvi Castle in Georgia, and the annotated novel points at several other sites of potential interest overseas, like:
A jaunt to South America can be a fun change of setting if your players tire of interrogating old spies in England and running around haunted castles in Romania. Several clues point towards Argentina:
- Quincey Morris travelled here extensively, sometimes accompanied by Jack Seward and Arthur Holmwood (ANNOT XX, ANNOT XX)
- The former Gehlen Org officer (p.XX) might talk about Nazi scientists or Iron Guard members who escaped to South America.
- Many of the ratlines that brought Nazis out of Germany were organized by priests within the Catholic church; suppressed records in the Vatican (or maybe in the Fortified Monastery of St. Peter, p. XX) describe attempts by the church to use ex-Nazis to fight the spread of Communism. (Rather like, one might say, Edom’s plan to use Dracula to fight the Nazis, and about equally well thought out).
If a side trip to South American doesn’t fit with your campaign, work this material into a flashback or an account given by a Network contact or as part of interrogating an Edom operative or Conspiracy minion.
Cool: An old dirt track rises into the mountains of Patagonia, in the Malargüe region. The air grows thin as you ascend, and the pampas spread out beneath and behind you under the open skies of Argentina. The locals spoke of an old mine – some say it was a military base – now abandoned in these hills. After a long search, you find what remains– a few lonely huts, overgrown and rusted. Exploring, you find scientific notes written in German. They were studying the bats that live in the great caverna de las Brujas cave system that extends under these hills, as well as seismic activity. As far as you can gather, their work began here in 1946, but was suddenly abandoned in 1967. As dusk draws in, thousands of bats emerge from fissures in the mountainside and wheel above you, following some course or signal you cannot discern.
Warm: The Malargüe camp’s still in use. Take your pick from:
- A colony of Nazis, either the descendants of the original fugitives, or immortal Nazi Renfields, or weird science-dhampirs created from genetically modified bats. They might possess secrets about the nature of vampirism – or be psychically controlled from afar by Dracula.
- A secret American research facility, or even a Guantanamo Bay for vampires. If Quincey Morris was an American asset back in 1894 (p. XX), he’s the patron saint of this facility. They may have used Nazi researchers obtained via Operation Paperclip to further their research into vampirism, and recruited fugitive Edom agents who got burned by the ’77 mole hunt.
- An Edom research facility – as above, only a little shabbier and the guards have slightly smaller guns and drink more tea. Drawes (p. XX) or Fort (p. XX) might be present at the facility.
- A Conspiracy-run mine and/or vampire cult, established by Julius Popper. Popper was a Bucharest-born explorer and engineer who became involved in the Tierra del Fuego gold rush in 1884. His expedition to find gold grew into a private army that participated the genocide of the native people. He was hugely wealthy when he died mysteriously in Buenos Aires at the age of 35 in 1893. Clearly, he was one of Dracula’s agents, and his money was funneled back to Romania to add to the Count’s coffers of ancient coins. Was Quincey Morris responsible for his death, or did Popper rise again as a vampire?
Connections: Research notes mention work done by Van Helsing and give his former address in Amsterdam (p. XX). Tracing gold from the mine with Accounting tracks it to the KBExportbank (p. XX). Carmina Rojas (p. XX) might turn up here – either as a guide, or to get the agents out of a jam, or maybe she’s actually running the show.
The Dracula Dossier – coming soon to Kickstarter.
Every now and again, I allude jokingly to my “patented one hour per paragraph production model.” This joke has the advantage of making Simon squirm and laugh hollowly, and the disadvantage of sometimes being true. Those little ability clues that I so thoughtlessly made standard in Hideous Creatures? Some of them, especially for the harder sciences, take — well, not an hour necessarily, but they take a good deal longer than just writing “Aunt Sandra thought she saw a bear but it smelled like a frog” or whatever. Visceral goo, easy; virtual science, hard.
Well, anyhow, I recently set what I hope to goodness is my all-time record for research-to-paragraph production, when I wrote up the “Calimani” paragraph in the “Castle Dracula” section of The Dracula Dossier. We can’t make it too easy to just “skip to the boss fight at the end,” after all, so I put in nine or so possible sites for Castle Dracula, of which the Calimani Mountains (a.k.a. the Kelemen Alps) in the eastern Carpathians are one. Why those Mountains (or Alps) in particular? Because they’ve been fingered by the wonderfully obsessive Dutch Dracula scholar Hans Corneel de Roos in his essay “The Dracula Maps” which is available only as an introductory section in his has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed photographically illustrated (and surprisingly minimally annotated) oversized book The Ultimate Dracula. (The cover, for those who disdain following clicky links, shows Dracula riding his coffin (complete with headlamps) through the skies over Transylvania.) So I (of course) bought it and when it showed up, pored over the FIFTY PAGE essay and carefully studied the SEVENTEEN main maps (the crucial ones being blown-up images of Austro-Hungarian military charts oh Thoth-Dionysos I love this book so much) and looked at the spot Corneel de Roos found in GoogleEarth then spent a bit of extra time tracing the “Mozile Draculi” label from one of those Austro-Hungarian military charts on a nearby hill, which turns out to actually read “Morile Draculi” meaning “Devil’s Mill” … or, of course, “Dracula’s Mill.” There’s also a nearby mountain called Dragusul, which doesn’t come from the same root at all but seems suggestive nonetheless.
If you’re curious, the key insight in de Roos’ essay is that Stoker gives a (mistakenly swapped) latitude and longitude for the nearest border crossing in his Notes, and mentions a nearby location called “Izvorul” which might well be the mountain Izvorul Calimanii or “Heart of the Kelemen” which might well have been the random desolate peak Stoker picked to use as Dracula’s mountain home. And yes I have Stoker’s Notes too.
And then I boiled the whole megillah down to the “Calimani” description but in my defense I think that turned into a little more like two or even three paragraphs.
But wait! There’s more! On an entirely unrelated search — well, not entirely unrelated, as it’s still about Dracula — I found another essay by the indefatigable Corneel de Roos. This one deals with the 1901 Icelandic translation of Dracula (titled Makt Myrkranna, meaning “Powers of Darkness”), which sent Dracula scholarship into a tizzy in 1986 when Stoker’s preface to it was rediscovered, said tizzy emanating from Stoker’s clear reference in that preface to Jack the Ripper. What’s the connection? asked any number of Dracula critics and at least two novels (one with a great title) and one very silly book of ostensible nonfiction which of course I own why would you even ask such a question it’s like you don’t even know me.
So anyhow that Icelandic translation, by one Valdimar Ásmundsson (who died in 1902, the year after it came out, no that’s not suspicious at all) was recently republished in 2011 — and only our redoubtable Dutchman has bothered to translate it or Googlefish it at least to find out if Jack the Ripper shows up in the book. So in his 2014 essay “Makt Myrkranna: Mother of All Dracula Modifications?” C. de Roos reveals that Ásmundsson — possibly with Stoker’s assistance and nigh-certainly with his permission — radically changed the plot! Dracula is now head of an evil conspiracy of rich bastards, financial-conspirator-Satanists who carried out the Thames Torso Murders among other outrages (and likely committed the Ripper killings after Dracula left the scene in a cloud of dust).
Reading this essay gave me: some possible names for the Brides of Dracula, lots more creepy Europeans, a new detective (Barrington, to go with Stoker’s un-used Cotford) and best of all, a lovely extra thread to spin out as a potential conspiracy. I barely prevented myself from adding Iceland as a new location.
All that, I confidently suspect, will nurture many new paragraphs indeed. So as long as I can keep Hans Corneel de Roos from publishing any more ground-breaking essays, we should be able to wrap this thing up (only a bit bloated with extra Satanism and keen Romanian mountains) by Halloween.
And so the time has begun for teases of Dracula Dossier content. Not least because the time is being taken up writing Dracula Dossier content instead of “Call of Chicago” content for See p. XX, but be that as it may. (If you’re wondering what The Dracula Dossier might be with all this content of a sudden, here’s the link.) Those of you fortunate ones who remember The Armitage Files will recognize this as a close variant of its “Artifact and Tome” format, in which a device might turn up in any one of many ontological states.
So why an Earthquake Device? Because there is a weird sub-theme in Stoker’s novel concerning volcanism, earthquakes, and other sorts of tectonic Gothic mayhem … including a full-on volcanic eruption that Stoker cut from the final version of the novel. For some reason. And when I started researching this book, I uncovered huge earthquakes in Romania — in the Carpathians, even — in 1893, 1940, and 1977. Exactly and specifically the earlier time frames the campaign refers to. There’s a lot more that I found out, but you’ll have to wait for the Big One to see it thrust up to the surface.
For now, I give you …
The Earthquake Device
Appearance: This object resembles a set of pistons held together by a ring around a central shaft. It rests on a set of splayed feet, allowing the central shaft to rise and fall when fed electrical power. Leads for a truck battery are visible in a recess on the side of the ring. On the ring and the bottom of the central shaft appear tiny symbols and words in another language: Serbo-Croatian, perhaps? An Investigative use of Mechanics can tell that this device was not mass-produced, but it may not be unique.
Supposed History: Agents with Occult Studies (or Fringe Science, if the campaign uses that possible version of the ability) or a 1-point Mechanics spend recognize this device as a version of Nikola Tesla’s oscillator. In 1893, Tesla patented a machine intended as a steam-driven electrical generator, but soon realized that its regular oscillations actually tuned themselves to the resonant frequency of the building – or country – it operated within. During one test in 1898, so the story goes, he accidentally triggered an earthquake centered on his laboratory, and had to demolish the prototype with a sledgehammer before the whole building came down around his ears.
Major Item: This device, as Tesla feared, can actually trigger earthquakes. Edom bought or stole a prototype from Tesla’s laboratory (or Morris brought one over from America) and used it to awaken Dracula in 1893 – and to trigger the volcano that put him back to sleep a year later. This specific device was issued to the 1940 Edom team in Romania; Edom (or Dracula’s mole within Edom) may also have used it (or another like it) to awaken Dracula (or leave a false seismic trail) in 1977. By now, the British government has far more sophisticated truck-mounted (or satellite-mounted) earthquake machines, which explains why the agents can misappropriate this one.
To operate the earthquake machine requires a continuous supply of electricity for three days (three truck batteries is sufficient) and a successful Difficulty 6 Mechanics test each day. The severity of the earthquake that results depends on the tectonic instability of the machine’s location. Getting out of the earthquake zone with the machine may be a bigger challenge than starting the earthquake in the first place!
[[DA]] In a campaign emphasizing the sorcerous, necromantic aspects of Dracula, the device is actually a Seal of Agares, a demon given power over earthquakes. The tiny symbols are the Name of Agares and certain geomantic emblems; the strange words UUSUR and ITAR channel Agares’ power into an earthquake. A 1-point Occult Studies spend (or a 1-point Research spend in a well-stocked occult library; or a 2-point Research spend and a good Internet connection; or a 0-point spend of Occult Studies while consulting Le Dragon Noir) recognizes all of the above.
To activate the earthquake device requires a simple battery discharge (Difficulty 3 Mechanics test, replacing the traditional lightning-strike), a supply of blood (at least 4 Health) decanted into the “pistons” each night, a specialized pentacle containing the Seal and the caster, three nights of spell casting, and a successful Difficulty 7 Stability test each night. The severity of the earthquake that results depends on the amount of blood sacrificed, and perhaps on the tectonic instability of the Seal’s location. Dracula can cast the spell more rapidly, if he needs to.
The specific spell is not available online; discovering it requires a week’s Research (3 point spend) or two days’ Occult Studies (2 point spend) in a well-stocked occult library, or access to Le Dragon Noir. With a 1-point Occult Studies spend, an agent knows that the spell is in Le Dragon Noir. The Director may well rule that only Le Dragon Noir (and possibly an Edom field manual somewhere) has the spell, and no amount of research outside the Scholomance can uncover it.
Minor Item: The device is actually a field seismometer dating back to 1893, used by the Harker team to find Castle Dracula by triangulating on temblors. Its design is more rugged and portable than a standard Milne seismograph. The central shaft holds the heavy pendulum; the other “pistons” hold mercury bubbles (viewed through a glass underneath the piston cap) and a battery: the “battery leads” are actually intended to connect to a telegraph key and line. A 1-point Geology spend recognizes it for what it is, and can even “read” it, although without a telegraph hookup, its output is less useful.
Fraudulent: The object is a fake “Tesla” device built by the mole to send Edom on a wild goose chase through the worlds of seismology: there is no direct connection between Dracula and earthquakes, except for the coincidence of his awakening and the 1893 quakes, and perhaps of the 1940 quake knocking Harker’s Kukri loose from his chest.
If the Director would like to keep the Dracula-earthquake connection alive, the device might still be authentic, but was left out in the Romanian countryside long enough to get broken and rusted beyond repair.
Connections: The Former Gehlen Org and Van Sloan know of the device’s existence, as does the Old Seismologist. The object itself might be in Van Sloan’s house, or in a neglected corner of the HMS Proserpine, Ring, or the Citta della Scienza Museum.
As I once more turn my hopeful eye upon The Dracula Dossier, digging back into things vampiric and espionagical, it occurs to me that it might be fun to wonder just who we talk about when we talk about Dracula. In The Dracula Dossier, every player knows going in that the Big Bad up on Level 6 of the Conspyramid is Dracula – making him a lowly puppet might have the advantage of novelty, but vitiates the whole point of using Dracula in the first place. But who, in the first place, Dracula is – that, we can leave mysterious.
These seven possible candidates might show up as just such Director’s options in The Dracula Dossier, most likely built out a bit from these skeletal outlines. Which one shows up in your game – well, that’s why they call it a mystery, isn’t it?
Vlad III Tepes
Vlad the Impaler, the historical voivode (closer to prince than count) of Wallachia, is the most usual of suspects. Even Bram Stoker’s great-grandson Dacre pins the Impaler and the Count together, following in the footsteps of Francis Ford Coppola and the historians Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu, among others. In Vlad’s favor: his name actually was “Dracula,” and he signed it that way. He did like death and bloodshed, whether in battle or on a field of impaled boyars. He had an “unworthy brother,” like the Count. He also fits Van Helsing’s description of the Count: “He must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land.” As against the identification: Not only is it too obvious, but too many details of Dracula’s life (his Szekely blood, for instance) don’t match Vlad’s – while the most, er, pointed detail of Vlad’s life (the hundreds of thousands of impalements) don’t show up in Dracula’s reminiscences or Van Helsing’s research.
One thing Dracula is sure of: he is Hungarian, a descendant of Attila, not Romanian. He is also voivode of Transylvania, not of Wallachia. And who was the greatest of the Hungarian voivodes of Transylvania? Janos Hunyadi (1385-1456), that’s who. Like Dracula (and Vlad) he “crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground,” at Belgrade in 1456. In the fairly confused reminiscence of his lineage (which might, of course, reflect either Harker’s distracted note-taking or deliberate disinformation by Stoker), Dracula’s career fits that of Hunyadi at least as well as it does that of Vlad. Fun fact: Hunyadi’s son Matthias Corvinus became King of Hungary, and later betrayed and imprisoned Vlad in Visegrad.
By Chapter 25, Van Helsing has given up on Vlad’s era and decided that the Count must be: “that other of his race … in a later age.” In their biography of Vlad, McNally and Florescu run down the descendants of the Draculesti line, about fourteen in all. While Mircea II had exceptional physical prowess, Alexandru II enjoyed a good impalement, and Radu Mihnea was rich and extravagant, in the Night’s Black Agents “Linea Dracula” campaign frame I went with John Dracula, who received a patent of nobility from Emperor Ferdinand I in 1535. Intriguingly, the coat of arms he (and his brother Ladislas, another possible candidate) received was that of the Bathory family: a wolf’s jaw with three teeth. Stephen Bathory commanded Vlad in the 1476 war against the Turks that briefly restored his throne; a connection between the Balkans’ two great vampire lineages was too good to pass up. Also, John and Ladislas (like the Count) were Hungarians, descended from Janos Hunyadi through their mother. I picked John over the elder Ladislas mostly because of John’s near-complete obscurity: he had a son (Georg) but no recorded date of death.
Finally we have Nicolaus Olahus, who served (from 1553 to 1568) as archbishop of Esztergom and Primate of Hungary, for that “blasphemous vampire Curia” vibe so common amongst Protestant (or atheist) film-makers. He described himself as “ex sanguine Draculae” (“of the blood of Dracula”), which is just about perfect and echoes the Count’s own word choice to boot. He was an adviser to kings and emperors, ideal soil for that medieval Conspyramid to root itself, and although Hungarian by nationality he researched the ancient past of Romania, another field pregnant with possible game hooks.
We now leave the fields of recorded history for the realm of secret history. It is well known that F.W. Murnau, the director of Nosferatu, pirated Stoker’s novel for his plot. But what if his research turned up the original story that Stoker concealed – and its German connection? Murnau, of course, was wired into the Berlin occult underground – the producer and designer of the film, Albin Grau, was a member of the Saturnian Brotherhood and a student of alchemy and magic. Through his occult mentor Aleister Crowley, Grau could have turned up British intelligence records of the Dracula operation, and made his film using the real name of the Count, Graf Orlok. The German (or “Saxon”) population of Transylvania goes back to the Teutonic Knights, who built castles there in the 13th century – including in Dracula’s home ground of Bistritz and Borgo Pass. If “Dracula” is German by blood, that complicates the story nicely. This theory also provides a lovely secret-service explanation for every print of Nosferatu (but one) being hunted down and destroyed — ostensibly to defend Florence Stoker’s copyright.
Complications multiply even more wonderfully if the connection to Romania is entirely fictional. Stoker’s Notes reveal that he initially wanted to set his novel (by which, of course, I mean “reveal that the original British Secret Service report set the action”) in Styria, a province of Austria famous for both literary and historical vampire infestations. (LeFanu sets Carmilla in Styria.) Stoker’s original draft used the transparent pseudonym “Count Wampyr” for the vampire’s name, clearly indicating that he was covering up the real title. If Florence Stoker hadn’t published “Dracula’s Guest,” a chapter redacted from the original novel, in 1914, we might never know the vampire’s family name. In that tale, “Countess Dolingen of Gratz in Styria” has been buried with an iron stake through her and the epitaph (in Russian) “The Dead Travel Fast.” If she is one of the Count’s brides, that makes Dracula actually Count Dolingen. The common initials also hint at a cover story, which is pretty nice.
Our final possibility offers a wonderful linkage between Night’s Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu. In 1924, Charles Dexter Ward visits “a Baron Ferenczy” east of Rakus in Transylvania. His castle “was on a crag in the dark wooded mountains, and the region was so shunned by the country folk that normal people could not help feeling ill at ease. Moreover, the Baron was not a person likely to appeal to correct and conservative New England gentlefolk. His aspect and manners had idiosyncrasies, and his age was so great as to be disquieting.” A-hem. Count Dracula is a necromancer, schooled at the Scholomance: “Baron Ferenczy” turns out to be Edward Hutchinson, a necromancer of Salem, Massachusetts. Unless, of course, both “Ferenczy” and “Hutchinson” are pseudonyms; he signs himself first with “Nephren-Ka nai Hadoth” – in other words, Nyarlathotep. That said … if Count Dracula is actually Nyarlathotep, you’re going to need a lot more garlic. And some more agents, most likely.
Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws talk worldbuilding, creating interesting female pregens for con games and freeforms, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and time-traveling health care in a brand new episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.