Time, Dracula and Investigations

Dracula Daily emails you once a day with the text of whatever elements of (the redacted) Dracula happened on that date. So, a day’s email might be a single entry from Jonathan Harker’s diary, or some pieces of correspondence between Lucy’s suitors. Or nothing at all, if no letters or diary entries are dated that day. It kicked off at the start of May, and will run until November. (Amusingly, it’s become the subject of infinite tumblr posts, with lots of people discovering the classic text for the first time.)

Reading Dracula this way is fascinating. In Stoker’s original, all of Harker’s journey to Transylvania (May->June) is presented in one chapter, and then the next chapter skips back to early May to deal with Lucy’s engagement and related matters. Here, we’re getting to directly contrast Harker’s nightmarish imprisonment in Castle Dracula with the joy and lightness of Lucy and Mina’s correspondence. It also brings home the prolonged horror of certain sequences. You can read through, say, the two-week voyage of the Demeter in a few minutes, but getting the log entries one lonely sentence every day gives a much more accurate impression of the experience.
The passage of time in investigative scenarios is a tricky problem, and Dracula’s a great counter-example of it. While the book runs May->November, the vast majority of the action is crammed into a few days in September and October. As soon as the Crew of Light actually become aware of the threat posed by the Count, they dedicate themselves completely to thwarting him. A common error in investigative scenarios is the assumption that the players will not utilise all the time available. Beware of directions like “on the third day after the investigators arrive” – most investigative groups prefer to follow every possible lead, even trivial ones, instead of willingly taking downtime by eating and sleeping. If your scenario absolutely demands the passage of time, consider:
  • Using montages and GM directions. “Ok, the next two days passes without major incident. Tell me what your characters do during this time.”
  • Reminding players of their characters’ need to rest and refuel – and inflicting appropriate penalties on those who push through needlessly.
  • Avoid having a mix of time-dependent and independent leads. If you expect the investigators to pick up a vital clue from, say, the serial killer’s third victim on Day Three, then don’t have an entirely separate chain of clues that lets the characters find the serial killer on Day One. (Or, better yet, redesign your story so it’s still compelling no matter which route the investigators take – avoiding events that are explicitly tied to dates really helps).
  • If you do need a long build-up, consider using temporary player characters without strong investigative drives. These hapless victims experience the slow burn of the horror over several months, then the actual investigators show up and deal with the problem with typical efficiency. Flashback sequences work well for this.
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