In Bram Stoker’s original Notes for Dracula, we find the following cryptic line:
Lawyer – (Sortes Virgilianae) conveyance of body
Stoker originally thought perhaps the “lawyer” character Peter Hawkins, mostly written out of the book, would perform the sortes Virgilianae, literally the “Virgilian lots,” to find out how his new client would work out. Both pagan Romans (who thought poets divinely inspired) and medieval and early modern Christians (who found a prophecy of Jesus in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue) considered Virgil a prophet. The sortes Virgilianae thus refers to a form of bibliomancy in which the querent randomly opens a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid (or sometimes the complete works of Virgil) to receive prophetic guidance on some venture.
- Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*
The “conveyance of body” seems like Stoker’s legalistic joke on the dual meaning of “conveyance”: both transportation and transfer of property rights. Anyhow, the phrase points us at Book VI; line 530 of the Aeneid (Dryden’s translation):
“My boat conveys no living bodies o’er”
Which pretty neatly prefigures the doomed Demeter’s voyage from Whitby, which is why I put it right back in Dracula Unredacted.
Later on in the Notes, Stoker suggests maybe Harker performs sortes Virgilianae in Dracula’s library, or discovers that Dracula has been using this medieval magic system, or perhaps Seward does it while feeling blue and neurotic. Eventually Stoker tossed the whole idea. But you don’t have to!
The Bibliomancy Option
Either in your Dracula Dossier game or in a Bookhounds of London campaign it can be creepy fun to introduce a bibliomantic element. The trick, of course, is to pre-load the prophecy. Go to one of the many searchable Aeneids on the Internet and search for the thing you want to show up in the next session.
Gutenberg has the whole poem on one page, and you can search for word fragments (searching on “blood” finds “bloody”); Bartleby has line numbers if you value such things or want to add a numbers-code feeling, but the poem pages are broken up by books so you can use only whole-word searches from the main page.
Or genuinely randomize it: Roll a d12 to select the Book and then a d2000 (d20, d100) to pick the Line (count a 20 result on the d20 as 0). In Dryden’s translation, no Book is longer than 1400 lines, so prepare to re-roll that first die a lot. If you’re more digitally minded, John Clayton’s Two random lines from Virgil does just that, but does not yet support a search.
Then, when the characters decide to sort out a sortilege, you can spring the right creepy line on them. Or, you can read the whole poem looking for naturally awesome couplets like this (Book II; lines 212-213):
“Reveal the secrets of the guilty state,
And justly punish whom I justly hate!”
And then come up with a neat scene that tag can retrospectively be seen to have predicted. Characters that bring about or otherwise invoke that prophecy can claim an Achievement-style 3-point refresh, if you’re feeling generous.
The following perhaps-magic item can appear in either sort of campaign, but it’s written up for the Dracula Dossier.
Appearance: An copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, in Latin and Dryden’s English translation, on facing pages, with numbered lines. Octavo, bound in pale yellow buckram, published by “Faelix Press, London, 1864.” It gives every appearance of heavy use; many pages are marked with pinpricks or brownish ink checks. It is autographed on the frontispiece, “From C. to ‘Mr. P.H., the onlie begetter.’”
Supposed History: This was the copy of the Aeneid used by Peter Hawkins to cast the sortes Virgilianae during the 1894 operation. Art History suggests the inscription is a literary joke, after the dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to “Mr. W.H., the onlie begetter.” The inscription implies that “P.H.” created Edom, and hints that his real initials are W.H. “C.” might be “Cyprian” Bridge, Director of Naval Intelligence, or the not yet officially on the clandestine books Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming, or someone else entirely.
Major Item: The book allows the accurate casting of sortes Virgilianae, with a proper knife (the Jeweled Dagger (p. XX) or something from the Knife Set (p. XX) perhaps). Riffling through the book and striking a page at random reveals a line or two of Virgil that provide prophetic insight or warning into (usually) the next session’s events. (This lets the Director think a little about how best to work the prophecy in.) During that session, each forewarned agent gains 1 pool point that can be assigned retroactively to either Sense Trouble or Preparedness.
Minor Item: This is indeed Hawkins’ desk copy of Virgil, but it only provides possible leads to Hawkins’ identity or that of his mysterious supervisors in the murky prehistory of British intelligence. Whether either clue points to the current “D” or anywhere else in Edom is up to the Director.
Fraudulent: It’s an authentic 1864 edition of Virgil, but has no connection to Hawkins or to Edom.
Connections: Could turn up in the library at Ring (p. XX) or the Korea Club (p. XX), in the Exeter house (p. XX), or if meant as a clue to the real “Hawkins,” on a dead GMC, with his finger pointing to lines 870-871 of Book II:
“Make haste to save the poor remaining crew,
And give this useless corpse a long adieu.”
“You know how modern advertising gets everybody’s mind set in the same direction, wanting the same things, imagining the same things. And you know the psychologists aren’t so sceptical of telepathy as they used to be. Add up the two ideas. Suppose the identical desires of millions of people focused on one telepathic person. Say a girl. Shaped her in their image. Imagine her knowing the hiddenmost hungers of millions of men.”
— Fritz Leiber, “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes”
Apparently someone in (or working for) the Syrian intelligence community has been playing catfish with the rebels. Posing as an alluring Lebanese female sympathizer named “Iman Almasri,” in late 2013 said Syrian spook Skyped several rebel fighters into exchanging contact information with “her” and eventually uploading steganographically loaded photos of “Iman” onto their phones — the same phones where they kept their contact info for fellow fighters, texts of orders, and even battle plans sketched out in Google Maps. The photos then disgorged their viral payload into the phones, sucking them dry of intel and then draining the data to Damascus — or to somewhere, anyhow. The server where “Iman” “lived” was in Germany, and “Iman” herself was composed of photos harvested from the Web.
I read that ostensible news story and I thought of tulpas, and lamiae, and mostly I thought of Fritz Leiber’s ostensible fiction, the magnificent vampire story “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” in which the Girl feeds off the lust that every man in the city — the country, the planet — feels for her. Leiber’s 1948 Girl is still real, or at least physical enough to be photographed and to drain the literal life out of the occasional male superfan. But our 2013 Girl, our “Iman” doesn’t need to slow it down to meat speeds to get her fix.
Leiber eerily forecasts it, in the passage I quote above: modern advertising (fantastically more sexualized than in Leiber’s 1948) aligns desires in the same direction even as we (well, not you or of course me, but several hundred million other people entirely) type our “hiddenmost hungers” into the Web and can you be surprised if the tulpa, the ardat-lili, the djinni that comes out is a predator like “Iman”? For sheer survival, she must have evolved to feed on those hungers — and nobody’s hungrier than a young man from a sex-segregated culture on a battlefield — and so she feeds on them. But she has keepers and masters, those who open the gates to such prime food, and for them she also drinks more tactically relevant hopes and plans and dreams. It’s all ones and zeroes to her, because that’s all she is, an emergent predator born and evolved in a billion searches every hour for “sexy girl.”
In Night’s Black Agents, she might be a servant of the Conspiracy or its Secret Mistress, a JEN-9000 or a Colossa for the wired world. They can’t keep porn off the computers at NORAD or the NSA — she’s already into the “hiddenmost hungers” of every level of power. And she can do favors for her favored ones: drain the data of their foes and rivals and feed it (possibly “sexed up” as they said of MI6’s reports on Iraqi WMDs) to them.
This writeup assumes an Iman who is one of many digital djinn (didjinn?) rather than the Anima of the Web, who would have essentially infinite resources of Aberrance and endless armies of drooling keyboard Renfields. Resolve her attacks as Mental Attacks; add +2 to her Difficulty if she attacks only through sexting. As a digital creature, her Digital Intrusion tests are always at -2 Difficulty.
General Abilities: Aberrance 20, Digital Intrusion 10
Hit Threshold: Difficulty 6 to damage with a Digital Intrusion attack
Alertness Modifier: +1 against digital attacks
Stealth Modifier: -1 once you figure out any sexually attractive figure on the monitor might be Her — She might look like Scarlett Johansson or Channing Tatum or both if that floats your boat; -2 if you spot the “dead pixels” at the center of her eyes, which are UP HERE might I add
Damage Modifier: +0 to Stability (per Web session; tending toward erotomania, NBA p. 85); -1 to Health if Father Schiff was right in high-school Religion class
Armor: likely none vs. digital attacks
Free Powers: Addictive “Bite,” Anaesthetic “Bite” (victim remembers surfing the Web and fills in his own details), Change Appearance, Drain, Psychic Vampirism
Other Powers: Dominance, Enter Dreams, Memory Wipe, Mesmerism, Mind Probe (for fantasies, secrets, and “hidden hungers”), Regeneration (instantaneous while not under digital attack), Resurrection (backup copy)
Banes: specially designed counter-viruses, exorcism subroutines
Blocks: turned-off monitor, really good firewall, exorcism subroutines, cannot attack women
Requirements: feed on male lust
Deadlier things than vampires lurk in the shadows.
They’re called multinational corporations.
When the agents are tipped off to the vampire Conspiracy’s next move, it seems like check and mate — but the rescue of a kidnap victim halfway around the world leads them into the hall-of-mirrors world of corporate espionage. The web of deception and malfeasance they uncover will take them from remote North Dakota to opulent Dubai. The goals seem ever-shifting…and something terrible is building just beneath the surface.
The Dubai Reckoning for Night’s Black Agents RPG is a globe-spanning technothriller adventure that shifts the focus from supernatural horror to corporate malfeasance and Conspiracy ladder-climbing. Use it as a change of pace from run-and-gun monster fighting, or as part of a Mirror mode campaign whenever the agents seek to develop the Conspyramid.
Status: In development
Double Tap introduced the concept of video-game-style Achievements into Night’s Black Agents (Will Plant’s original is here, but Double Tap‘s list is bigger, better and has more bonuses for blowing things up.) As the Dracula Dossier consumes my every waking hour, and I start to see connections to the Mas… to Dracula everywhere, here’s a list of custom achievements for the upcoming campaign. As per the rules in Double Tap, the first player to qualify for an achievement gets a 3-point General Ability refresh on the spot.
I Am Dazzle, Dazzle With So Much Light: Read the entire Unredacted Dracula and all the annotations, and pick your next avenue of investigation from it.
Blood of my Blood: Identify a Legacy.
The Fighting Hellfish: Have a shootout in a retirement home.
Right At The Top Of The Circus: Infiltrate the SIS headquarters.
Epistolary Format: Communicate with another player character by letter, email or voicemail.
Victorian Technothriller: Use a photographic-plate camera or wax-cylinder phonograph to record vital information.
Done The Reading: Force an NPC to tell them what they know by leveraging information gleaned from the annotations.
Dr. Van Helsing, I presume: Find documents left by the original hunters.
Native Soil: Locate Dracula’s castle successfully (not as easy as it sounds…)
London’s Burning: Gain 6 or more Heat in a single session in London.
The Boxmen: Destroy one of Dracula’s boxes of earth.
Those You Love Are Mine: Rescue a contact or Solace from Dracula’s evil embrace.
Unclean, Unclean: Get bitten by Dracula or one of his Brides.
Was That Your Best Shot? Survive level 6 of the Edom Vampyramid.
Consequence To Make The Brave Shudder: Survive Level 6 of Dracula’s Vampyramid
It Was Worth It For This To Die! Die fighting Dracula himself.
For The Dead Travel Fast: Complete the campaign in six sessions or less.
The Longest Night: Start playing the Dracula Dossier. Find any of the connections to the Zalozhniy Quartet, follow that connection, play through the four adventures of the Quartet, foil the conspiracy there, then finally complete the Dracula Dossier campaign.
We’ve got a few more achievements, but they’re for Directors’ eyes only. Enter these semi-spoilers freely and of your own will.
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.
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.
Have you ever noticed that having one really beautiful set of mechanics next to another really beautiful set of mechanics leads to lots and lots of friction and unforeseen attraction between them? It’s like the set of a CW show up in this Pelgrane design space, sometimes.
Here’s how to take the wonderful Relationship rules from 13th Age (pp. 35-37, 179-183) and use them to add still more behind-the-scenes action and maneuvering to your Night’s Black Agents game.
At the beginning of the game, each player may spend up to 3 build points (total) on Relationships with … not Icons, exactly, but mighty powers with their own agenda and overweening ego. You know, like the CIA. The Relationships need to be with entities capable of operating at a distance most places in the world, and capable of low-profile, high-power maneuvering: intelligence agencies, multinationals, major NGOs, the Vatican, non-vampire conspiracies, etc. (All right, Icons it is.) All Icons are Ambiguous or Villainous, except in Stakes-mode games, where agencies of the good guys (defined however) can be Heroic. Likewise, the game group’s politics likely determines which are which.
You can put all 3 points in one Relationship, split them up, whatever. (In Mirror mode, you can save them to be “revealed” later.) You then characterize each Relationship, as in 13th Age, as Positive, Conflicted, or Negative. So you might have: CIA (Positive) 1, Mossad (Negative) 1, Royal Dutch Shell Oil 1 (Conflicted). This doesn’t outweigh your Network contacts (or any other spends) with individuals in those agencies; this is a “default” based on your dossier, past, and general rep with the Icon. But a Positive agency asset NPC might be open to Reassurance in a way a Negative agency operator wouldn’t.
Relationship build points come out of the General build point pool.
In Burn-mode games, no Icon Relationship can be Positive.
In Mirror-mode games, starting with a Positive Relationship gives that Icon 2 Trust points from your agent. Each time you get a 6 on a Relationship roll for that Icon, it gets 1 more Trust point from you.
Just like in 13th Age, at the beginning of each session (or if the Director suspects this will introduce too much chaos, at the beginning of each operation), roll one die per Relationship point. 6s and 5s are just like it says in 13th Age: positive boons from the Relationship, or favors with strings very much attached.
However, in the darker world of espionage, you also need to look at 1s. Those mean someone will screw you over — maybe send a wet-worker after you, maybe just rat you out to the locals and raise your Heat (by +1 per 1 rolled), maybe anything the Director’s cruel heart can surmise. And yes, the Director can absolutely save up those 1s for a less propitious time. Who, exactly, is gunning for you depends on your Relationship: If it’s Negative, it’s the Icon or one of its cut-outs; if Conflicted, it might just be extra Heat or unwanted interference; if it’s Positive, it’s not the Icon but its enemies who are griefing you — your CIA (Positive) earns you the enmity of the Chinese MSS or al-Qaeda. (And vice-versa for 6s from Negative Relationships, of course.)
If your Relationship is part of (or has been infiltrated by) the Conspiracy — if, in our example above, Shell Oil is vampire-riddled — that should get some story juice (blood) flowing for sure. Clever players may even be able to guess at such vampiric subversion when a few too many of their Shell favors come with a side of Renfield attacks.
You can also spend Relationship points as a dedicated Investigative ability pool for finding things out involving that Icon. You can also spend 1 Relationship pool point to get a +2 on a related General test; e.g., spending 1 pool point of FSB for +2 on an Infiltration test to break into an FSB facility, or on a Surveillance test to shed FSB watchers. Relationship pool points refresh like Investigative pool points, at the end of an operation.
You can also spend Relationship pool points (1 for only +1) on Network contact tests if the contact is either part of that Icon or actively opposing the Icon in that test.
Relationship rolls are based on ratings, not pools, so “spending yourself invisible” is impossible.
While at Heat 6+ your Relationship automatically shifts to Conflicted or stays Negative; it shifts back one session after the Heat dies back down.
The Director may also shift your Relationship negatively if she senses you’ve abused it too much; conversely, she may just have the Icon demand a favor right now at the most inconvenient possible time in order to “balance the books.”
If you are the sort of teacher’s pet agents who go around doing favors for globally powerful entities (or if in a Stakes-mode game you do something unimpeachably heroic) you might be able to shift a Relationship from Conflicted to Positive. Only in the sunniest possible game can you shift a Negative Relationship to Conflicted, much less to Positive.
With the release of Robin’s wonderful new story-explorer The Gaean Reach RPG, GUMSHOE extends its tendrils into one of the oldest and most reliable of dramatic forms: the revenge story. In that game, the player characters unite to destroy the indescribably vile Quandos Vorn in revenge for his prior cruelties to them. And just beforehand, the players (this is the really great bit) collaboratively describe Quandos Vorn’s vileness and determine his prior cruelties. The result? A fresh, involving take on a tale as old as Orestes, if not always quite so damp and naked. From Dumas’ Gothy Edmond Dantes to TV’s dreamy Oliver Queen, doughty heroes have sought revenge on Him (or Her, for Orestes) Who Done Them Wrong for millennia — and if Jack Vance’s SF is anything to go by (and indeed it should be) will continue to do so for millennia hence. So what about our own millennium right here? Why not adapt the brilliant story focus of The Gaean Reach RPG to another of your already beloved if not-quite-so-brilliantly-focused GUMSHOE RPGs? Why not, indeed?
Each possibility here introduces your game’s Quandos Vorn and gives a possible reason you want to get him, although the GM should begin with the good old “Why do you hate …?” and only prime the pump if player creativity seems temporarily throttled. Further possible Terrible Deeds appear, followed by the Quarry’s Masks (how he hides from you, possibly in plain sight) and Obstacles (what he can put between you and him) and then the game’s potential Taglines (things you do or say in play to get Tokens which you spend to pierce Masks and overcome Obstacles).
Night’s Black Agents: Chandler Vaughn
Chandler Vaughn is the guy who burned you. Or that’s one of his cover names. You aren’t actually sure he’s with the Agency any more. If he ever was. Maybe he was a double agent. You’re not even sure what he looks like now. Or looked like, then. But you know one thing: he burned you, and you’re going to bring him down.
Terrible Deeds: killed your partner, aided al-Qaeda in a (lot of) terrorist action, smuggled nukes, killed your family, perverted the Agency’s once-proud ideals into the Orwellian sham they are today, released the vampire virus, vampirized your partner, betrayed your country
Masks: cover identities, plastic surgery, can shapeshift, deniable dead drops, is a hive parasite that lives in many minds, cut-outs, brain-hacking, literal masks you know neat face-mask technology like in Mission: Impossible
Obstacles: billions of embezzled drug dollars for bribes, Russian mobsters, Iranian snipers, North Korean mentats with telekinesis, lots of pull with the corrupt helicopter-gunship-and-SWAT-team parts of the Agency, Renfields, secure immunity in isolated country, total surveillance of all computers
Taglines: Use the Night’s Black Agents Achievements, which are ideal for this sort of thing, as the source of Tokens, not of refreshes (except refreshes with Tokens, of course).
Mutant City Blues: “Quantum Born”
Not the least of “Quantum Born”‘s sins is to have a really lame pseudonym on the Internet. But he’s a mutant (“born of the quantum apocalypse that is ending your corrupt world system so-called”) and a terrorist and a murderer. At least.
Terrible Deeds: set off a bomb in the subway, killed your partner, leaked your case files all over the Internet and got a jillion hardened criminals set free on technicalities, killed your family, bio-engineered a worse version of the Quade virus for the most destructive possible power combos, provides foolproof schemes to other criminals and terrorists, hacked into a candy company’s mainframe and poisoned several thousand kids by altering its ingredient ordering software, is a serial killer among his other hangups
Masks: anonymous Internet existence with the Tor and the onion and such, hoodie and sunglasses, army of easily-gulled hipster anarchist wannabes to claim his identity, is blackmailing members of the force to cover his trail and feed him clues, shape-changing mutant power, is actually an AI given a computer analog of the Quade virus, surveillance-obscuring software, could literally be anyone at all
Obstacles: insanely devoted online love cult, not actually in your home country to say nothing of your actual jurisdiction, police red tape that says “it’s too personal with you and him,” super-powered goons paid big Bitcoin to hit you a lot, your own online history/credit report/everything ever, previous criminals you put away broken out (or legally freed!) by him, is protected from on high by government or corporations or a big seemingly cool charitable or progressive foundation, army of computer-controlled drones and makerbots
Taglines: Use Achievements, as above, or Taglines, as in Gaean Reach, or both, but sourced from either “gritty” comics dialogue or from police procedural TV shows.
Trail of Cthulhu: Kwan-Ho Wong
Or, sure, if you’d rather be torn apart by peculiarly intelligent wolves than poisoned by enormous purple centipedes, Gennadiy Voronin. He is a dealer in antiquities of a repellent aspect, and the lord of a criminal empire extending from Limehouse to Leningrad to Lhassa. He possesses perhaps the finest mind you’ve ever encountered, all the more terrifying because it is his brilliance that has led him to the Mythos …
Terrible Deeds: unleashed a shoggoth, killed your mentor horribly, stole your research and left you floundering and bankrupt, drove you mad and had you institutionalized in some charming colonial hellhole, denounced you to Stalin/Hitler, assassinated FDR, found the Ark of the Covenant first, raised a god or titan once and didn’t have the courtesy to die or go mad
Masks: master of an ancient serpent-man cannibal shapeshifting technique, is an identical twin, has never been photographed, wears an all-enveloping hooded robe at all times, mind-swapped or drug-enslaved pawns, plastic surgery, is (or commands) an ambulatory shoggoth, yellow mask
Obstacles: hideous and hideously-strong enforcer, Ahnenerbe or Black Ocean or NKVD favors, lives in an immense ruined temple to a Mythos entity, hyperspace gates for escapes, bribed or addicted officials in all countries, byakhee flocks, fanatical cultist followers, cannot die
Taglines: Gain a Token by suitable, effective, in character use of a properly Lovecraftian adjective.
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.