The Dracula Dossier Review - King of the Bloodsuckers

'This 476-page book might be the most impressive player handout ever devised ...' but not the only player handout in the campaign. There's also the Hawkins Papers, a collection of physical props including psychic maps of London and the Borgo Pass, letters from and to Dracula, operations reports, telegrams, even business cards for important NPCs.

When Pelgrane first proposed GUMSHOE, way back when, one of the common cries from gamers was, 'it's a railroad! A RAILROAD I TELLS YA!' The argument was that the game's core mechanic, the Clue finding element, allowed the GM to herd the players along a predetermined path. I sometimes wonder if the Pelgrane folks were so annoyed by this that they decided to Ultimate Sandbox this, The Armitage Files, and I think also Eternal Lies, though I've not read that one yet. 'Railroad, huh? You don't want one of those, you say? FINE! SANDBOX FOR EVERYONE!'

The Dracula Dossier Review - King of the Bloodsuckers

Ready for the Count to invade your Night's Black Agents campaign? The Dracula Dossier is for you.

Read Full Article

When the campaign begins, the players are given Dracula Unredacted - a "first-draft" edition of Dracula filled with margin notes from other investigators. This 476-page book might be the most impressive player handout ever devised, combining the original Dracula novel, settings and characters from Stoker's actual draft, and original content by Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. Even if you never play the actual campaign, you'll find a fantastic story here - technically four, if you count the margin notes detailing events across the 20th Century.

And here I am wondering when my players will get around to reading the 5-page rules summary I wrote up for Scion; we're 5 sessions into the 9-session campaign. I don't know what kind of players you have who will read 500 pages of background material, but keep a tight hold on them.

I can see myself opening it to a random page, pulling out some details for a one-shot or a full campaign, and only using the other handouts that Karloff mentioned for the players. Giving them the whole Dossier seems like it leads either to no one reading it, or the players running after one of a thousand red herrings and extraneous details.

This one novel encompasses everything that would define modern vampire fiction, right down to crosses, garlic and death by sunlight

And seeing as this is such an important and influential piece of horror literature and a monument of vampire fiction you probably should have sit down and spent your time actually reading the bloody thing, in which Dracula was perfectly able to walk in sunlight with no dire consequences - he was stronger by night, but the daylight did not kill him, death by sunlight originated in F.W. Murnau's silent film classic Nosferatu, an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula.

Thunderous Cacophony:

When the campaign begins, the players are given Dracula Unredacted - a "first-draft" edition of Dracula filled with margin notes from other investigators. This 476-page book might be the most impressive player handout ever devised, combining the original Dracula novel, settings and characters from Stoker's actual draft, and original content by Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. Even if you never play the actual campaign, you'll find a fantastic story here - technically four, if you count the margin notes detailing events across the 20th Century.

And here I am wondering when my players will get around to reading the 5-page rules summary I wrote up for Scion; we're 5 sessions into the 9-session campaign. I don't know what kind of players you have who will read 500 pages of background material, but keep a tight hold on them.

I can see myself opening it to a random page, pulling out some details for a one-shot or a full campaign, and only using the other handouts that Karloff mentioned for the players. Giving them the whole Dossier seems like it leads either to no one reading it, or the players running after one of a thousand red herrings and extraneous details.

The nice thing is you don't have to read the whole thing. The annotations let you flip through the book to an interesting sounding hook, and then you can start investigating it. Being able to read chapters on your own (or during a slow moment if the rest of the party is on a fact-finding mission) is just a great perk.

RealRT:

This one novel encompasses everything that would define modern vampire fiction, right down to crosses, garlic and death by sunlight

And seeing as this is such an important and influential piece of horror literature and a monument of vampire fiction you probably should have sit down and spent your time actually reading the bloody thing, in which Dracula was perfectly able to walk in sunlight with no dire consequences - he was stronger by night, but the daylight did not kill him, death by sunlight originated in F.W. Murnau's silent film classic Nosferatu, an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula.

It's fixed.

Karloff:
'This 476-page book might be the most impressive player handout ever devised ...' but not the only player handout in the campaign. There's also the Hawkins Papers, a collection of physical props including psychic maps of London and the Borgo Pass, letters from and to Dracula, operations reports, telegrams, even business cards for important NPCs.

When Pelgrane first proposed GUMSHOE, way back when, one of the common cries from gamers was, 'it's a railroad! A RAILROAD I TELLS YA!' The argument was that the game's core mechanic, the Clue finding element, allowed the GM to herd the players along a predetermined path. I sometimes wonder if the Pelgrane folks were so annoyed by this that they decided to Ultimate Sandbox this, The Armitage Files, and I think also Eternal Lies, though I've not read that one yet. 'Railroad, huh? You don't want one of those, you say? FINE! SANDBOX FOR EVERYONE!'

What I liked about Gumshoe was that it ensures you have the clues, but it doesn't tell you what they actually mean. Sometimes the interpretation can be way off, creating interesting fallout - or it coul dbe better than what the GM had in mind, and you adjust accordingly.

I haven't read all of Eternal Lies, but it's kind of a middle ground. The first and last adventures are fixed, but the middle ones can be completed in any order.

Fanghawk:

I haven't read all of Eternal Lies, but it's kind of a middle ground. The first and last adventures are fixed, but the middle ones can be completed in any order.

That's not unlike the Capstone concept in the Dossier. Briefly, there's several different optional end scenes. Depending on how the campaign progresses, or personal preference, you can use any one of them as a suitable climax. But the opening scenario can be whatever you like; during free RPG day, Pelgrane gave away The Harker Intrusion, which could be a good starting point. Or the Director could use the Lennart laptop, the McGuffin in the scenario given in the main book, as a starting point; I did. Or something else entirely.

When I discussed the Dossier over here:

http://karloff-shelf.blogspot.com/2015/07/not-quite-review-corner-dracula-dossier.html

I mention that, in my view, new Directors may find the Dossier difficult to run. It comes down to confidence; you need to be confident enough to be able to wing it, when necessary, look up the details later and decide what best fits the situation. I think that's the same problem Marshall had, when he tried to run it. He wanted to know, so he looked it up during the session, when really he'd have been better off bullshitting like mad and checking on the details later.

However the beauty of the Dossier is that there's so much stuff here that, whether you intend to play it straight or go hog wild with naughty Nazis in Brazil, you've got the material to pull it off. No matter what madness drops out of your mouth, there's bound to be something to justify it in the text.

Thunderous Cacophony:

And here I am wondering when my players will get around to reading the 5-page rules summary I wrote up for Scion; we're 5 sessions into the 9-session campaign. I don't know what kind of players you have who will read 500 pages of background material, but keep a tight hold on them.

I can see myself opening it to a random page, pulling out some details for a one-shot or a full campaign, and only using the other handouts that Karloff mentioned for the players. Giving them the whole Dossier seems like it leads either to no one reading it, or the players running after one of a thousand red herrings and extraneous details.

The great thing about using a text like Dracula is, it's a pretty good bet that at least some of the players have already read it. Or that they've seen one of the many, many movie adaptations. That means they already know the basic plot, and can be counted on to zero in on one or two things about it that interest them; which is exactly what you, as Director, want them to do. Is there something in Whitby? Why yes. Is there a real Carfax Abbey? You'll have to go looking for it to find out. What about Seward's asylum, Castle Dracula, the graveyard where the Bloofer Lady stalks her child victims by night? Yes, yes, and yes. So, where do you want to start?

As for red herrings and extraneous details, those are the best part! Let 'em go chasing phantoms, while the vampires muster in the shadowy corners of reality, and Edom sends its spies and assassins hither and yon. If Castle Dracula turns out to be a tourist trap with plastic stakes and bogus holy water on sale in the gift shop, what of it? There's still fun to be had tooling around in the tourist trap, and you can plant clues there which lead somewhere more plot relevant later on. Also, you can have assassins attack them there, mysterious strangers promising them vital clues if they'll do one or two simple tasks, find some forgotten artifact that will be useful later on ... Whatever suits your fancy!

Karloff:
snip

You're not wrong! Being able to make up stuff on the spot is a joy of games like these. For example, the party arranged a dinner meet at a very fancy restaurant with a CIA contact (which was a suggestion in the book). But since things felt a little slow, I decided to go with making her one of Dracula's minions - slipping in the personal detail that Dracula was an unnamed third party at their table. This was the second session, and they were completely unprepared for Dracula showing up so early, leading to a sinking horror in the pits of their stomach as they realized who they were sitting beside... and that was before he mesmerized one of them into offering his blood right there in public.

That being said, my job as a reviewer means I should judge the book's content as much as possible, ESPECIALLY with the Unredacted annotations being such an essential part of the experience. (Red herrings aside, clues still have to matter or else there's no point to them.) A lot of customers pick up campaign books so they don't have to make things up, however confident they may be, so that's the perspective I came at it from. The GMs who are comfortable with improvising will do it anyway!

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here