Dracula Unredacted is many things. Weighty, certainly. Terrifying, possibly. (Brilliant, modestly.)
Welcoming – not necessarily . Now, you may be blessed with players who are already avid Dracula fans, or players who are salivating at the thought of all that delicious cross-referencing and speculating, in which case they’ll happily devour the World’s Biggest Campaign Handout and ask for more. However, there are some Directors who hesitate at the idea of giving a 476-page handout to their groups and saying “right, read that and tell me what you want to do next.”
The biggest hurdle is early in the campaign – after a few sessions, the players will have so many non-Dossier leads to follow that digging through Unredacted becomes entirely optional.
Here are a few ways to ease the players into the mystery.
The Secret Scholar
Here, the Player Characters are brought together by a mysterious scholar or spymaster who has a copy of the Dossier. For some reason, the spymaster can’t go into the field himself (he’s too old/too frail/has to avoid cameras because of facial-recognition programs – the government’s searching for him/has to maintain his public persona), so he gives the player characters assignments to carry out based on annotations in Dracula Unredacted. “Go here,” he says, “and find out everything you can about Klopstock and Bayreuth, Bankers”.
So, in the early stages of the campaign, you use the Secret Scholar to give plot hooks to your players. You pick what they’re going to investigate next. Later on, you can either continue with this approach, or else remove the Secret Scholar and let the players choose their own hooks. You could kill off the Scholar as a Vampyramid Response, or reveal him as a traitor (maybe even a Duke of Edom, using the Agents as disposable assets in a clandestine op against his own rivals in Edom).
The Secret Scholar should be extremely well informed on certain matters, and clueless in other fields, to ensure that the players have to do plenty of investigation on their own – you don’t want them to just follow instructions blindly. The Scholar might be an occult expert, or well-connected in Whitehall, or just wealthy enough to bankroll a campaign against Dracula.
Possible Secret Scholar identities: Van Sloan (p. 87), Cushing (p. 92), MI5 Deputy (p. 95), Enigmatic Monsignor (p. 114), Hopkins (p. 117), Icelandic Diplomat (p. 119), Journalist (p. 120), the Caldwell Foundation (p. 160), an officer from a rival Vampire Program (p. 75), Oakes (p. 52), Philip Holmwood (p. 43). For added fun, stick the Secret Scholar in a spooky ruined castle, and ensure he only meets the PCs at night…
This works like the Secret Scholar option, but preserves the “player characters on the run” vibe of the campaign. In this setup, the PCs get fed intel and advice by a mysterious fellow fugitive who contacts them by email, dead drop or the occasional encrypted video chat. Deep Throat sent them a copy of the Dossier (or kept her own copy and sent them the original for safe keeping), but still calls them up when she can to point them at something she discovered.
The advantage of the Deep Throat approach is that you can give the players as much or as little information as you wish. One week, she can tell them exactly what to investigate and where to go. Next week, she only has time to send them a single annotation number before she has to run again. The disadvantage – or potential disadvantage – is that the Hunt for Deep Throat might become a major part of the campaign instead of a framing device.
The obvious candidate for Deep Throat is Hopkins (p. 117), but any of the possible Hopkins candidates (DIFC Tasker, p. 111, MI6 Romania Desk Analyst, p. 124, GCHQ Romania Desk Analyst, p. 115, MI6 Lamplighter, p. 123) could also qualify. Other maybes are Mr. Hopkins (p. 117), the Hungarian (p. 94),the Informant (p. 95), the Journalist (p. 120), the Online Mystic (p. 126), Carmilla Rojas (p. 46) or the BND Deep Cover Agent (p. 105).
The Paper Chase
Instead of giving the players the whole Unredacted to read at once, give it to them chapter-by-chapter, or chop it into smaller sections. Jonathan’s experiences in Castle Dracula are a nice self-contained file; all the correspondence in Chapter IX, or the radically changed sections in Chapters XVII-XIX could be good starting points. Maybe the Agents got an encrypted document from Hopkins that’s slowly decrypting, page by page, or maybe they literally find a trail of papers as they investigate the mystery. (Maybe they’re not the first group to get hold of the Dossier – there could be another team of spies who went ahead of them, and got separated and slaughtered one by one by Dracula, each one with a portion of the document.)
You can either do this as a quick hand wave (“your skills in Traffic Analysis tell you that this is clearly the most relevant annotation to investigate this week“) or literally highlight the annotations and sections that really inspire you. In effect, you’re turning the wide-open improv approach into more of a choose-your-own-adventure, which works great for player groups that want the freedom offered by the idea of the Dracula Dossier campaign but are reluctant to dig into the reading, or suffer from analysis paralysis when presented with 476 pages of leads. Giving them a choice of three or four leads to follow may work better than giving them thirty or forty…