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Trail of Cthulhu Player's Guide
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/23/2017 08:23:08

Released as a PDF-only product, this work puts all the information a PLAYER needs into his hands, whilst excising all of the GM-related material in the core rulebook. It has an advantage in being cheaper than the full rulebook, and keeps at least some GM secrets away from prying eyes (assuming, that is, that only one person in your group ever wants to GM!). The text is basically the same as the player parts of the core rulebook, so if you have that already, there are no juicy \'player secrets\' here!

The Introduction explains the rationale behind the game, basically a desire to take all the things that made that classic horror game Call of Cthulhu so great and fold in Pelgrane Press\'s GUMSHOE ruleset that is specifically designed for any game in which the investigation of clues forms a major part. The underlying idea is that if a clue is important to solving whatever mystery has been put in front of the players, they WILL find it no matter how badly they roll the dice (and often, even regardless of how off-beam their investigation is...). The real joy of investigation comes in going over the clues and making sense of them after all, not worrying if you\'ve actually found them all yet!

The introduction also talks about the two possible styles of game - \'purist\' or \'pulp\'. The \'purist\' style is a philosophical approach to horror where the very discovery of \'whatever\' endangers both the investigators and innocent bystanders and there isn\'t really anything that can be done about it, and going mad is not a matter of if but when. The \'pulp\' style takes a more robust approach with desperate actions that might, just might, avert whatever horror is the threat (but might equally well result in death or madness for the party). It\'s up to the group as a whole which emphasis they prefer, most like a mixture of the two. Something to discuss with the Keeper (GM) before the game begins.

Most of the rest of the book is taken up with how to create your character or Investigator. Anyone can become an Investigator, usually by becoming interested in those Things That Should Not Be (although some are just caught up in it), so you begin by deciding on what job or Occupation you had before you started investigating... some characters may still work at it between investigations, others may dedicate themselves full-time to this pursuit. Whether you still do it or not, it confers a host of knowledge, skills and other abilities on the character. There are also ideas about how someone with that particular professional background will approach an investigation of strange events, the usual route in to discovering the latest Mythos plot. All these Occupations are set in the classic 1930s era, and there are interesting sidebars about how faithfully you want to model ideas of the times... in the real 1930s, for example, female doctors were rare, indeed ladies were expected to do no more than run a home and raise children. Many gamers will not want to constrain themselves to a slavish following of historical reality - and when you are accepting the existence of mind-bending tentacled monsters, you may well feel happy to kick over the bounds of the attitudes of the time as well. Others don\'t (I recall a Call of Cthulhu Keeper once questioning a doctor turned novellist character I put before her with \"A woman would not have read medicine at Harvard\"... she hadn\'t realised that although I, the player, was female, this time I had created a male character!), and it\'s up to the group to decide what will work for them. Many great \'pulp\' characters defied convention.

We then look at motivations or Drives, used to define the character (and also help him stay sane in the face of adversity). They also help with role-playing, shaping the character\'s attitude and approach to life. Throughout, symbols indicate which choices are appropriate for \'pulp\' or \'purist\' games, depending on how far to one end or the other of the scale you intend your game to be. There are lots of notes to help you too. Then it\'s on with detailed listings of all the abilities (that is, skills) and how they work in play, indeed how they can be used to good effect. This section ends with a sample character sheet, and there have been plenty of examples of character generation as illustrations along the way.

The next section, Clues, Tests and Contests, explains how you use all those numbers on your character sheet to good effect. There\'s loads of detail here and well worth the reading. It includes combat, of course, but brawling is of lesser importance in this game than in many. For a start, it\'s pretty deadly whic a realistic approach to firearms and other modes of dealing out injury. And most of the time, the average Mythos monster is less bothered by a hail of bullets than you are by a swarm of midges. Yes, there will be opportunities to fight (cultists, for example) but your combat abilities are not going to save the day. Still there is plenty and enough about combat to keep anyone happy (and of course it is of more import the more \'pulp\' your game becomes. Of course, this is a Mythos game so a substation section is dedicated to sanity and madness, with many interesting ways for your characters to lose their marbles. Some may even recover...

There\'s a section on Technology, Weapons and Equipment, based squarely in the 1930s and finally a section of good advice, Putting it All Together. This provides hints and tips for role-playing and for how to conduct an effective investigation. Right at the end is a blank character sheet and some quite disturbing pictures of the authors.

This contains everything a player might need to play Trail of Cthulhu and could be regarded as well-nigh essential for every member of the group.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu Player's Guide
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Watchers in the Sky
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/20/2017 07:29:25

This is a Purist adventure, where there is no resolution or satisfaction, just the bleak reality of the Mythos to discover. In it, there are strange birds around... from those surrounding a mental patient to others who hang around watching, watching... and when dissected, they\'re not quite right. Purge all thoughts of Hitchcock\'s The Birds, this is far worse!

The horrible truth is revealed straight away for the Keeper and then there are notes on how the party actually gets involved. Those with connections to medicine or psychiatry may hear about the mental patient who is convinced that the birds he feeds are watching him. Scientifically-trained ones may get involved in research that appears to suggests that the results of experiments change when these weird birds are around. A biologist or vet might catch one and cut it up... all roads lead to a university library where there are further clues as to the location of where these birds roost, and a couple of deaths will likely precipitate the climax of the investigation... entering the caves from whence the birds come.

Interestingly, not all the answers are there to be found. It\'s done on purpose to unsettle and frustrate - and is indeed true to Lovecraft\'s own stories which always raise more questions about his monsters than ever get answered. Enjoy playing with the characters\' minds! Should they wish to investigate further in subsequent adventures, the Keeper is welcome to come up with his own answers.

Five Investigators tailor-made for this adventure are provided, and they are woven into the plot well. If you prefer to use other characters, you will have to do this work over, although you do have an excellent example of how to do it before you. Likewise, all the major NPCs are described complete with role-playing notes: things like suggested mannerisms and gestures to help you bring the character to life during play. The \'Directed Scenes\', where we catch a glimpse of each Investigator\'s Source of Stability, are also tailored both to the pre-generated characters and the adventure itself, so if you\'re not using them you have more work to do!

The scenes, and the clues to be found in them, are described atmospherically. Here there is a bit more room for you to introduce a party other than the one provided, once you have come up with good reasons for them being in these places... and as they progress through the clues, the odd birds will begin to watch them. At some point - unless you have a party who has diverse enough interests to have split up to visit different places - the Investigators need to meet up and agree to work together, which may need a bit of firkling with travel times and other things to get them into the same place and discovering that they are all interested in weird birds. That done, there\'s some fascinating library research - now going to the library is common in Cthulhu-related games, but this time it\'s genuinely interesting and meaningful - before heading off to the Lake District which is where it appears that the birds originate.

There are some wonderful opportunities to mess with your players\' heads which, if used with care, can get really spooky and make for a memorable adventure. After the adventure\'s climax, there are suggested epilogues - Directed Scenes which loop back to the opening scenes with the Sources of Stability in a remarkably creepy way.

If you like classic Cthulhu mythos adventures, you\'ll love this one. If you\'ve never tried the Purist style before, it might convince you to explore it more thoroughly. Just watch out for those birds...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Watchers in the Sky
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Dying of St Margaret's
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/19/2017 08:33:18

As written, this adventure follows the \'Pure\' track, sheer creeping horror with no easy answers (and nothing you can fight). If that doesn\'t appeal, do not move on, there are notes on how to run it as a \'Pulp; style adventure instead. The Introduction tells of a brooding clifftop school on a Scottish island, lurking horrors below and the disappearance of the last lot of Investigators to go there. Will your party fare any better?

The starting premise is that your Investigators are part of, or at least familiar with, the \"London occult set\" and will be familiar with a bunch of their peers who wanted to investigate the strange aftermath of a meteorite which landed in the vicinity of the school and eventually took jobs there as a means to this end... but who have not been heard from for several months. The Keeper is encouraged to talk to the players in some detail about their characters\' involvement: who was it that they knew amongst the disappeared fellows, what sort of job do they intend to take up, and how well (if at all) do they know the rest of this party? This information should be kept and referred to frequently to personalse the adventure to each character in the group. There are notes about generating characters for this adventure - it is, it seems, better suited to being a one-shot than part of an on-going campaign, although you may decide differently. This includes a discussion about Drives, and how each will interact with events in the adventure. Other dramatic tips are also discussed.

The adventure proper starts as the party arrives at St Margaret\'s, but it is suggested that flashbacks and directed scenes are used to backfill just why they are all on the ferry. Then it\'s on to the school with notes on the main members of staff (complete with suggestions for role-playing them that verge on acting - posture, voice, mannerisms - little things that help them come to life for your players). From then on in, school routine takes over and the party will have to slot into it as appropriate for the post they are filling. Note that posts are pretty dependent on your social standing (as determined by Credit Rating) although with cunning use of Disguise characters may attempt to seem what they are not.

There are, of course, loads of clues to be had. Each one comes with an array of ways to discover it, which brings the whole thing to life and enables you to weave them in seamlessly to conversations and explorations. There are locations to visit, each with their own array of clues, and eventually the party will be led to the source of the problem... and it is left to them how they cope with what they find. Perhaps they give up and die, maybe they escape at least physically (but probably go mad...

Although it is supposed to end there, a few suggestions for follow-up adventures are given. These will probably involve a new set of Investigators, or may even cross over into another Gumshoe game line... Esoterrorists or Fear Itself are suitable here. Five pre-generated Investigators, woven firmly into the plot are provided, along with the original ones who they have followed here (you can make up more if you like, especially if your players would rather create their own characters). There are a couple of handouts, and that\'s it.

It makes for a compelling adventure, but unless you are good at providing details on the fly some preparatory work is advisable. There is no plan of the school nor map of the island. The ending comes over as rather flat and may leave a lot of people feeling dissatisfied despite it being true to the spirit of a Lovecraft story. Hence you might want to make at least a little bit of use of the Pulp notes or modify the ending in a way of your own choosing. Atmosphere, though, is excellent!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Dying of St Margaret's
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The Esoterror Summoning Guide
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/18/2017 07:21:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion book for The Esoterrorists (which is also useful for other GUMSHOE-games) clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let\'s take a look!

So, first things first - since I\'m trying to help retain this review\'s usefulness for folks not familiar with esoterrorists: The idea of this horror-game is pretty much brilliant. The PCs are part of a conspiracy, the Ordo Veritatis - and it is actually a benign one. You see, our world sports a membrane that separates us from the Outer Dark, a place of chaotic and infinite possibilities, pretty much all of which are horrific nightmare fuel - think of it as the desert of the real, as the horrific, chthonic truth of reality, where science and the laws of physics break down. Here\'s the thing - the membrane isn\'t a wall - it is elastic, regenerates slowly and can be ripped, torn...and it may be the collective unconscious of our species. For as long as we believe in ordered reality, for as long as we cling to hope, to a sense of the world...well, making sense, the membrane will protect us from the Outer Dark. Conversely, despair, a sense that life\'s surreal and an experience of Entfremdung from existence, the glorification of dark deeds, horrific superstitions that gain traction and similar proceedings ultimately weaken the membrane.

There is a second conspiracy, but it is not a structured hierarchy; instead, it is a cluster of infinite cells - the esoterrorists. Their end-game is to break down the membrane and welcome the entities of the Outer Dark to our reality - for whatever purposes. Esoterrorists perform horrific deeds and ultimately are enemies of all mankind - with the horrific prospect of their sheer existence being a weapon. If the truth of the Outer Dark existing becomes widely known, said knowledge alone will greatly diminish the membrane, potentially breaking it. Hence, the Ordo Veritatis\' (or OV) goal is to keep the public ignorant of the horrific struggle, the shadow war waged behind the scenes. The esoterrorist\'s main advantage in the struggle against the superb organization of the OV, however, lies in their command of magic...or rather, in their ability to summon the dread entities from the Outer Dark, who have...well, really nasty tricks up their sleeves.

This book, then, would constitute essentially a massive dossier for the agents of the OV - written in-character, as though it was a need-to-know-basis briefing file, this book elucidates upon the various types of summoning at the disposal of the esoterrorists and the current theories pertaining the mechanics of said summoning. In the beginning, the paradigm shift for the OV\'s endgame, from the overly ambitious eradication to containment, is explained in succinct and captivating detail. Similarly, the current theories pertaining the membrane provide a concise picture o the stakes of this conflict - it is against the backdrop of new media and a progressively more daunting task that we are introduced to the different types of summoning techniques the esoterrorists employ.

The first of these would be the Greater Invocative Summoning, and it may be the most hard to pull off, but also the most powerful technique: It requires a significant amount of people (we\'re talking thousands) and the considerable psychic energy these individuals generate; as such, it is easy to spot and anticipate, but actually preventing it while maintaining anonymity and ignorance of the OD (Outer Dark) entities is VERY hard; the danger this type of summing poses, though, is considerable, for it can draw a new OD entity to the world - and after an entity has been clad in our reality\'s nightmares, after it has manifested once, it can be called in a significantly easier manner - less expenditure, less elaborate requirements - basically, it thereafter can be called forth via a lesser invocative summoning. This summoning, in short, can establish a foothold for an entity or type of entities. Following the formula, we get case studies pertaining such summoning rituals as well as suggested countermeasures for the OV agents...always remember, in the end, you need plausible deniability, mundane explanations for the proceedings to enact a proper veil-out.

Ontological summoning is different - it capitalizes on the previously noted power of folk belief; basically, a belief is taken and continuously reinforced by the esoterrorists, who seek to make the folk belief seem plausible, like the surreal, reality eroding truth. That factory, where Freddy Krüger died? Making kids disappear in the vicinity, seeding sightings and fostering fear and angst in the face of the obvious evidence are what allow entities called forth thus to assume appropriate shapes.

Thirdly, constructionist summoning would be the Frankenstein approach - the mad scientist creating a flesh-golem, the programmer seeking to make an evil A.I.-god, the brainwashing cult that seeks to create a monument - basically, here, it is not belief that generates a vessel, but actual construction and belief in the receptacle. Speaking of cults - there is one more and particularly grotesque way of bringing an OD into the world: The total destruction of a personality with impositional summoning. Basically, esoterrorists completely break down a person\'s self and instill a belief in the target that the person was destined to be a vessel or actually IS the Outer Dark entity (ODE)...until it supplants the unfortunate being, overriding everything and becoming, for all intents and purposes, the ODE. It should be noted that this can also generate a means in ingress for new ODEs... and the case studies featured here are particularly brutal. Finally, there would be opportunistic summoning, which is basically grounded in finding cryptid-sightings, LSMs (Low Membrane-Strength places) as well as similar places and establishing contact with ODEs.

Speaking of which - the issue of negotiating with such entities, when and where it is permissible and when it is appropriate, is also depicted in detail: Basically, the agents are given guidelines to deal with the alien psyches and easy tools to evaluate whether it is possible to defeat the entity sans giving in to demands, when and how such strategies are valid and the different demands are indeed covered as well. prolonged negotiation and the potential stability loss that entails.

Now, what to do with all the knowledge this pdf provides for the agents and GM? Well, there would be an interesting sample scenario that takes up the last couple of pages, one called Cell Death.

The following will cover the basics of this investigation, so potential players of the scenario should skip ahead to the conclusion. From here on out reign the SPOILERS.

...

..

.

All right, still here? The agents are sent to Rome, where Lucio Mancini lies dying in a hospice ward, asking for Mr. Verity and the \"pluggers\" - esoterrorist slang for agents of the OV plugging the membrane. Mancini\'s wife died of an inoperable lung condition, caused by toxic smoke, which made him slip into esoterrorism and now he\'s riddled with cancers and has one request from the agents of the OV - find is son, who has gone underground. Introduced to the esoterrorist cell of one Graham park, Mancini does not want his son to pay the ultimate price as well. It is from here that the PCs track the trail of Lucio\'s son to the sleepy backwater town Bluewater in Idaho. Here, different types of potential summoning endeavors can be eliminated, one by one, until impositional summoning is left - and indeed, in a well-guarded farm, the esoterrorists have not only established a security perimeter of concealed cameras and the like - they also have a subterranean bunker complex, where Lucio\'s son\'s personality was systematically broken down: He witnessed, time and again, as radiation and toxic smoke corroded and gruesomely slew people in front him, while he was unaffected - thus nearing the completion of the summoning of a new ODE, the balefire man, a really nasty ODE whose stats btw. are provided herein.

The problems faced by the agents consist of more than just dealing with the armed esoterrorists, though - they have to find the bunker complex and hopefully, via mementos, gain an edge in combat against the dread entity. Similarly, the hazmat suits the PCs can find certainly will be helpful when dealing with the ODE...which brings me to a bit of an issue I have with this scenario. While it is permissible for OV agents to eliminate esoterrorists, the perhaps smartest way of dealing with those in the inner vault would be rigging poison gas to it, flooding the bunker - the pdf very much acknowledges this. The PCs arrive as the remaining esoterrorists give their lives and call forth the ODE - something that cannot, RAW, be prevented, which I get from a dramatic perspective. However, poisoning the unarmed ritual practicing esoterrorists frankly violates the code of ethics and could act as a catalyst to bringing forth the balefire man - after all, it is established that a good man\'s evil deeds weaken the membrane more than that of a conscience-less psychopath. So yeah, that aspect of an otherwise good module would constitute an internal logic issue in my book. On the plus-side for the battered agents if they take down the ODE, the veil-out should be easy thanks to the secluded nature of the farm.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good from both a rules-language and formal perspective. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column b/w-standard that emulates papers and dossiers, with photo-like, amazing b/w-artworks as well as excellent b/w-drawings emulating a \"clipped in/attached\" feeling - the layout conveys well the illusion of reading a proper dossier. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan\'s Esoterror Summoning Guide represents an amazing resource; the fact that you can hand it to your players and just have them read the book(and enjoy the experience) renders this not only a great handout, it also makes the subject matter, which could have been dry and bland, thoroughly exciting. Each of the ample case studies can act as a great adventure hook to build new scenarios from, so that\'s another plus. In fact, the summoning-type categories, obviously also are relevant for Fear Itself and can be employed beyond that game: The general ideas for various types of summoning can conceivably be equally easily used in the context of Trail of Cthulhu or Night\'s Black agents, particularly if you\'re running a genre-spanning game that features elements from multiple GUMSHOE-settings.

I similarly absolutely enjoyed the final scenario attached, which does a great job of showing GMs and players alike how to employ the knowledge they and their PCs have in game; that being said, the denouement and climax of the module, to be, was a bit of a dud, since the potential code of ethics violation and the lack of diversified outcomes made this more railroady than required and slightly less refined to me. let it be known, however, that I am complaining at a very high level here - I still consider this to be an excellent purchase and well worth of a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Esoterror Summoning Guide
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The Thrill of Dracula
by Christian F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/06/2017 13:37:19

Extremely well researched and fun to read. Very useful for any Dracula or vampire based fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Thrill of Dracula
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Hillfolk
by Patrick H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/27/2016 21:43:54

Holy crap, it's a social-minded system-based game that actually works!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hillfolk
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Ashen Stars: Tartarus
by Mike W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/16/2016 10:22:07

Tartarus has all of the elements that really embrace the Sci-Fi Horror aspect which Ashen Stars is so well suited for. With elements of Alien, Dead Space, Prometheus, and Blade Runner it has a wonderful level of building tension and horror.

Also, it has a nice "Alistair Reynolds" Sci Fi feel to it.

Best adventure for AS yet. Nicely done.

(P.S. Space Suit Integrity is IMPORTANT. Pass it on.)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ashen Stars: Tartarus
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Hillfolk
by Lars L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/10/2016 14:10:53

For everyone who likes to play Fiasco-style narrative RPG as a ongoing game not only as a one-shot. Additionally there are a lot of scenarios available.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hillfolk
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High Magic & Low Cunning: Battle Scenes for Five Icons, includes Map Folio
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/12/2016 01:01:39

I looked around for another product like this and couldn't find anything else. I took a bit of a risk on this as I wasn't able to find the table of contents to see if the battles would work for me. I've got to say I'm really, really impressed. The battles are all really interesting with great tactics for the monsters/NPCs, and can function as quests that you can drop into an existing campaign (you could also string them together as a series of shorter adventures and build a campaign out of it). I'm playing an adventure path that takes place in a large city and wanted to have lots of options for the players to take.

What if they want to rob a powerful wizard? (there's a series of battles where there's a mad wizard who just died and left behind some cool loot with lots of traps/constructs defending it)
What if they are approached by a gang of theives? (there's a battle for that - the PCs have to avoid blackmail by infiltrating another theives den) What about if they want to fight some epic monster? (there's a series battle leading to a very memorable encounter with a dragon) Storm and hold a castle against an orc hold?

With a bit of creativity I was able to instantly give my PCs plot hooks into 5 of the series of battles at the start of the campaign. It gave them a ton of options and made what was a fairly linear adventure path into a total sandbox.

The quality of the encounters is really great, and the 13th ago icon system works really well in pretty much any system. I'm using it on a D&D adventure path running using the dungeonworld ruleset.

I can't recommend this highly enough.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
High Magic & Low Cunning: Battle Scenes for Five Icons, includes Map Folio
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13th Age Core Book
by Harrison L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/16/2016 13:24:14

I thought this book was excellent. I enjoyed the narrative-focused structure of the game, especially the idea of One Unique Thing and backgrounds. The classes are also extremely unique and the world presented in the book in engaging. I have also purchased the 13th Age Bestiary and 13 True Ways and have been consistently impressed in the quality across all three books. There are tons of good ideas and the system seems tightly focused - the rules have purpose and focus on creating a good time at the table.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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13th Age Core Book
by Jim L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/11/2016 22:54:56

This review is a summarised version. For the full version, you may read it at Swords & Stationery.

13th Age is a game I've really enjoyed running, though I haven't had the chance to try it as a player. It does a great job at combining narrative and gamist elements without bogging down into bloat. Some of the concepts seem a bit heavy-handed at first, but when you get past the moderate learning curve, they become very easily internalised. I've read comments online that there aren't many viable character builds. Personally I haven't run into that problem yet, so we'll see. In any case, if you're looking for a game with excellent combat and a powerful narrative system, 13th Age is worth taking a look at.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents: The Dubai Reckoning
by Andre B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/04/2016 07:10:11

This is a solid adventure, well written and really user (=GM) freindly. The price is fair and i think u can play 2-3 fun sessions with this. I only gave it a 3-star rating because i think the other nights black agents publications are way more interesting and creative. This is totally ok, but nothing special.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents: The Dubai Reckoning
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Dance in the Blood
by Tuukka U. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/01/2016 02:53:38

Nice story and easy for beginners. You can play through it nicely in a few hours.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Dance in the Blood
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The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/06/2016 04:18:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive hardcover clocks in at 372 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial/backer-lists, 4 pages detailed ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 362 (!!!) pages of raw content, so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a critical, unbiased review.

So, what is this book? Well, first of all, this is the companion tome to the Dracula Unredacted-tome, which is perhaps the most detailed, massive handout ever crafted for a roleplaying game. I'd like to urge you to read my review of this book first before taking a gander at this review here, if only so we're all on the same page. I'll wait here.

whistles badly

tries to look inconspicuous

Okay, back? I know I'd be a sucky agent. Anyways, this is, in a nut-shell, the Director's book for the campaign. Surprise. If you were btw. thinking how you, as a GM, can keep tabs of the intentional inconsistencies, vaguenesses and hooks contained in the glorious tome called Dracula Unredacted...well, remember me mentioning the numbers in the review of Dracula Unredacted? You have an index of those here, one that supplement the massive index provided for this book and helps you stay one step ahead of the players. Properly depicted workname-lists and checklists further enhance the options of running this campaign.

Still, structure-wise, this book very much differs from the classic mega-adventure/AP/what-have-you-not. Why? Well, this campaign understands itself as an improvisational campaign -which, I can see, already has some of you roll your eyes. Well, wait a second - basically, this book can be considered to be the single most massively free-form campaign I have ever read...but it doesn't feel like it - at all.

What do I mean by this? Well, the book is meticulously structured. At this point, we are already familiar with the structuring elements of the Conspyramid and Vampyramid as established structuring elements in Night's Black Agents-games - but the level of detail that has been provided herein is...well, staggering. If you take one of these and the respective levels inside, you'll notice detailed, crunch-supported responses to what is happening. From basic information-gathering to burning agents, the response/assault structure of the adversaries in this book, ultimately, is exceedingly, stunningly detailed and sensible - and yes, the stakes are high. Wait, stakes...good note: The book does offer advice on different playstyles - from stakes to burn and dust and mirror, different takes on the subject matter and advice for thematic modifications can be found in this tome.

Another simple reason why this does not feel like a typical free-form-GM-does-all-the-work-campaign is simply the staggering level of detail that has been provided in order to make running this massive campaign easier on the GM: Over 60 location, over 60 NPCs, almost30 strange objects - basically, even if you are not interested AT ALL in running a Dracula-themed campaign, this still remains a superb toolkit for your perusal.

But all those details don't sound very improvisational, right? Well, here a genius element of this book comes into play. Everything, and I mean friggin' everything, is utterly and completely customizable. The NPCs? They represent, in many cases, archetypes - but they also are characters: The Icelandic Diplomat, for example, is a fully developed character, with quirky mannerisms, history, ideology - true. But there are alternate names and looks, for one. Secondly, the entries focus on different options - generally, you get at least 3 options out of each character depicted - as an innocent, as a member of the conspiracy and as a direct minion of Dracula - and no, these are not the same, but more on that in the SPOILER-section, Similarly, from photos to jeweled daggers or Báthory's journals, the artifacts and objects have multiple iterations - they can be major items, often with rules-relevant repercussions upon being used, less important items, fraudulent -and all has been carefully laid out for the director's perusal.

Players stumble over item xyz too early? Okay, so you change it on the fly to a different iteration of its own, thus retaining control over this part of the campaign. This attention to detail btw. also extends to organizations and locales - from the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels to the Echipa Mortii or the al-Qaeda in Rûm, the respective organizations can have wildly different roles from campaign to campaign and this vast arsenal of different interpretations, ultimately, also lets you maintain control - and easily switch-bait one iteration into another: "While these guys have been made to look like Dracula's minions, your painstakingly gathered intel now shows..." Similarly, the Rumanian government's branches have undergone a treatment just as detailed - which, alongside the locations themselves, does show one thing: Authors Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan are history buffs and not only excel at the research of literature and its conventions as depicted in the Dracula Unredacted book - they also did their research here. Admirably so.

Know how impressed I was about Dracula Unredacted making use of the Icelandic Jack the Ripper-note? Well guess what? Their meticulously researched take on the locations and organization and history suffuses this book. I feel obliged to explicitly comment on this due to several facts: For one, a large part of Night's Black Agent's appeal lies in the realism of the setting, of it being "our" world. Particularly in research-heavy scenarios with historical figures, there is nothing that demotivates extremely involved players that do research in their spare time more than botching facts, dates, knowing nothing about structure xyz -it breaks the suspension of disbelief and is highly destructive and unpleasant when encountered. You'll find no such instance herein - the respective locations, with handy maps of both dilapidated oil platforms (that may be prisons or not), cities and castles is precise and steeped deeply in real world lore - both historic and fantastic. Living a short drive away from Munich, I know about quite a few locales; similarly, as someone who had the chance to visit a lot of Rumanian castles, London and Iceland, I can verify that the depiction of these locations is downright uncanny in its presentation. I grossly, grossly underestimated the amount of work the Dracula Dossier would require for a fair assessment - I did research. A lot of it.

And the intriguing component is this: These real-life locations, organizations, etc. - they are fictional...and they are not. While the horrific threat obviously suffuses these places, they also remain grounded in reality - it's almost to the point at which I'd consider this book's depiction of places a form of augmented reality. If history is a grand narrative, a conventionalized consensus, then the accomplishment of this book lies in being almost too feasible, like an unredacted version of the things that could be, were vampires real. I may be too cerebral, I don't know - but to me, this vastly enhanced the overall fear and tension while playing this book - and it enhances the sense of immersion of the players.

More important, should you not care (or care less) about accuracy, will be that, even in this level of detail, the game-play elements are never lost - each entry and locale, everything is simply chockfull with things to do, stability to lose, traps, responses and, ultimately, fun. Have I btw. mentioned that this modularity also extends to the very identity of Dracula and his castle? There are multiple, thoroughly compelling candidates - which you can actually research. Yep. Lunch-break, thinking about the week-end's campaign? Interested in who the hell this one guy was? Research...and bam, you have meta-game and game generate a cohesive whole. Oh, have I mentioned maps for them? There is a second customization option for Dracula I consider very interesting -but that is, frankly, SPOILER-material and will feature in that section of the review.

But perhaps, just perhaps, all of these tools, all of these details, in spite of the thorough indexing and massive amount of ideas, still feels like it's not enough to you. Perhaps, you want to have a bit more handholding, a skeleton to put your plot-meat on, if you will? Well, fret notes - beyond the spines depicting how to craft a scenario from Dracula Unredacted annotations, the book also offers alternate ends, campaign frames (think of them as massive templates for the campaign) and an exceedingly-detailed looking glass chapter on Bucharest....but this is where I'm at an end regarding the SPOILER-free territory - I'll now go into the nit and grit of this tome.

Highly classified! Agents reading further will get BURNED and lose all stability! Agents should, at any cost, refrain from reading on and instead jump to the conclusion. Only Directors are classified to read further. CLASSIFIED. SPOILERS ABOUND.

...

..

.

Okay, so you're a director and know how to handle this precarious information. Good. What I intentionally failed to mention above pertains to the nature of Dracula. You may not like the idea of supernatural, classic vampires, satanic adversaries of the like - the full book contains a massive selection of items and story-hooks that are based on a scientific interpretation of vampirism, tying Dracula to tellurgic energies, electromagnetism and thus manages to add a new and evocative potential twist to the subject matter - yes, including potentially an experimental rifle with a LONG recharge duration. More importantly, though, this does allow you to mix and match the classic and the unconventional ideas to create your own, unique take on Dracula and his spawn.

The book also has a vast selection of supernatural threats that brim with creativity and, combined with Drac's stats, make this worth it for the stats alone. But what do we get exactly? Well, beyond the obvious Báthory (who is a capital threat in her own right) to Lilith (an ancient vampire posing as the goddess...) we also cover more exotic characters: - from Abhartach, the blood-drinking dwarf of Irish myth to the Chinese Jin-Gui to Orlok, Jack the Ripper (in a classic, interesting take) and various national vampire programs, we also get some truly exotic beings: Alraune, a plant-like Übermensch-experiment gone rogue or Queen Tera, the supernatural cast of optional characters is glorious. Similarly, EDOM's forces and the cast of the novel and their descendants in different epochs are covered.

EDOM? Yep, for now things get VERY spoilery - basically, the central focus of the campaign can be summed up as that this branch of MI6, which is btw. also the "conspiracy" beyond Dracula's own, seeks to recruit vampires for Britain as super-agents. This nefarious cabal operates in the shadows beyond even mainstream espionage and conspiracies and thus is a lethal foe indeed - and reading the unredacted file...well, puts the agents in danger by this force and Dracula - pincered between two truly lethal forces. More intriguing, by the way - the organization's handlers, potential for double-agents among the player, organization-responses and facilities - all of these can be found within the superbly detailed pages contained herein. Similarly, the cast of characters of Stoker's novel and their descendants may still be around, may be working for EDOM, Dracula, both or neither - the possibilities, literally, are almost endless and up to the creativity of the director and the responses of the players.

Now I mentioned alternate capstones, right? The expected one, no surprise there, is the showdown with nigh-demi-god Dracula in his own castle. But the alternatives are no less compelling: Whether Dracula's endgame is becoming a god by ferreting out Zalmoxis, hijacking Russia by subduing Vladimir Putin or a showdown in the remote caverns beyond the inhospitable, exceedingly lethal wilderness beyond the Dracula's Mill-water fall or bringing final death at his unique, original tomb - the capstones, once again, can be mixed and matched to suit your individual campaign and resonate with diverse, unique ideas and leitmotifs as well as metaphorical charges. And yes, with ample unique challenges and even new characters, these are no mere sketches - they are distinct and lend a unique flair to the respective finales.

I did mention campaign frames, right? Well, the first of these allows you to run a Mythos-version of the whole campaign, completely compatible with Trail of Cthulhu, including a wide array of potential servants, threats and similar mythos-themed notions - AWESOME...and yes, this means that this should be in the library of any self-respecting ToC-keeper, complete with star-spawn and black monoliths. The second frame would be a stakes-frame, wherein a third faction enters the game - the Fourth Reich. Basically, here we have a less realistic blend of Nazi-super-science, pulpy aesthetics and the Dracula myth - including underground cities, powerful super-Nazi-bosses and the like...and yes, emphasis on the occult or the scientific both are possible in equal measure. Finally, the "Onto the Fourth Generation"-frame takes the generation-spanning plot and begins with 1894, then proceeds to 1940, then 1977 and then to the present day, weaving an epic yarn that begins with players directly involved in the incident that actually generated the Dracula-novel in the first place. These alternatives, obviously, can be extensively scavenged by the director to create a thoroughly unique vision of an individual campaign.

There is one more fact: The Dracula Dossier's Director's Handbook is not simply a free-form espionage campaign. It also has tie-ins. Particularly novice directors that are a bit out of their league with the free-form structure of this campaign will certainly appreciate that the book ties in with the superb Zalozhniy Quartet campaign and, obviously, The EDOM files. Though, unfortunately, I do not own the latter adventure-collection, I have tried the transition from the former to the Dossier and it worked seamlessly smooth.

It should also be noted that a list of recommend reading has been included for your convenience!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch - I only noticed a handful of glitches in a book of this impressive size, making this one of the most refined books you can find. Layout adheres to Pelgrane Press' superb 3-column full-color standard for Night's Black Agents and the book is chockfull with awesome full-color artwork - if there is an NPC, he or she will have a great artwork. Add to that great establishing shots and a high art-density in general and we have a gorgeous book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, while the print copy (which you should get) is a high-quality hardcover with glossy, thick paper - a book made to last. My copy also featured a gorgeous cardboard 1-page-sized rendition of the glorious artwork of a potential castle of Dracula.

Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, with support from Heather Albano, Paul Baldowski, Kennon Bauman, Walt Ciechenowski, Justin Farquhar, Elsa S. Henry, Carol Johnson, Marissa Kelly, Shoshana Kessock, Shawn Merwin, James Palmer, Nathan Paoletta, Will Plant, Wes Schneider, Christopher Sniezak and Paul Veccione have created a book that can only be described as a master-piece...and then, it still doesn't doe the experience of the Dracula Dossier justice.

If you read my reviews of Esoterrorists, Eyes of the Stone Thief or similar books, you'll notice a tendency: Pelgrane Press is actually becoming rapidly one of my favorite publishers. Much like these absolutely superb tomes, the Dracula Dossier can be considered to be a book that pushes the envelope by means of its depth, customization options and the vast, ridiculous array of unique options herein. Suffused by truly unique ideas and historic accuracy, a humbling amount of unique details and more material than you can shake a stick at, the Dracula Dossier as a whole is an experience that not only ranks among my favorites in my whole reviewer-career, it is also simply superb in just about every way. Its careful research and level of detail, its interaction with Dracula Unredacted - both conspire to basically render this book a nigh unprecedented experience: The fact that Dracula Unredacted generates a real-world experience supported by research undertaken by players enhances the immersion in unprecedented ways. Better yet, this colossal tome's genius organization renders actually running the campaign a feasible task, even for directors that are new to the GUMSHOE-rules-set: The tie-ins with the Zalozhniy Quartet allow for easier, more structured beginnings to get used to the themes of the game, while also planting the seeds for the highly modular campaign-smörgåsbord contained within these pages.

This book cannot only be considered to be excellence in game-design, it is also educational and pretty much the pinnacle of careful, deliberate and capable research. I honestly sat down with my own copy of Dracula and compared texts. I did research...and ended up being more impressed rather than less by the attention to detail and care that went into this book. Note that most texts, whether academic or otherwise, tend to elicit the opposite response from me.

This is, pretty much, a system-seller experience unlike any other you may have encountered during your experiences with investigative RPGs. It's, in one sentence, a milestone for our hobby as a whole. Obviously, my rating cannot be anything but a full 5 stars + seal of approval for this masterpiece. And yes, this is obviously a candidate for my Top Ten of this year; in fact, it is a hot contender for the number 1 spot! Seriously - even if you aren't interested in Night's Black Agent's - at least get the Dracula Unredacted book...though, if my prediction holds up, that book will make you get this Director's Handbook as well. They are simply too good to pass up. And yes, I hope I'll be able to review more of these absolutely superb GUMSHOE-books in the future!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook
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The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/06/2016 04:15:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive hardcover clocks in at 476 pages (489 in pdf form, with cover etc. being counted among the pages), so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

In a nut-shell, this is a twist of the original Dracula-novel as penned by Bram Stoker, with annotations. "I don't need to read that, I know Dracula's story already!" - I can see this impulse in at least some readers out there. You'd be wrong, for the text actually has been expanded by roughly 1/5 - 1/4 of its size, with characters like Kate Reed introduced to the fray, providing additional depth and perspectives. This only in the beginning to keep you reading - this is not vanilla-Dracula: The premise is that the unredacted Dracula is an after-action field report that has been censored and changed in the published version. So, please, indulge me and follow me on a little excursion - I guarantee that the following analysis may actually make you reconsider.

Blood. It is impossible to talk about Dracula without first going on a brief tangent pertaining this most fascinating of bodily fluids. No other fluid alarms us to its extent - we are hard-wired to instinctually consider red an attention-catching color because of it: The blue or green blood of other species does not alarm us in the slightest, but red blood...there is something primal in its look, smell and taste and throughout recorded human history, blood has been a central component of our mythology - it is the gradient of life and the currency of death itself for our kind. We "spill blood" when we kill, the implication of casual shedding of it conjuring up an excess, a transgression against the "civilized" code of conduct we based our societies on. Perhaps most famously in recent TV-history, Dexter the serial killer ultimately is what? Bingo - a blood-spatter analyst, signifying his killer-nature - he reads, in blood. He divines with it, though he does so at the altar of science.

Altar? Yes, for at the same time, blood has always held more meaning - the sacral component is prevalent to this date: While we may have, for the most part, abolished the notion of offering blood to deities and spirits, sacrificial practices have been an integral part of religions all around the globe and indeed, continues to be. Before you shake your head and point towards your enlightened Christianity or other religion, please consider symbolism like "partaking in the blood of Christ" or similar practices. To paraphrase Sir James Frazer: We have moved up in our level of abstraction, but the thematic core remains; the original religion fades, but the icon remains and takes on a new mantle and guise. The haruspex of our day and age is the blood-spatter analyst.

Where there is the sacred, however, there also is the profane and nary a thing that exists in our world has as significant a powerful symbolic charge as blood - we associate its transgressive excess with connotations of evil, of the vile and debauchery. There is spectacle in fascination in blood, the grimy lair of an insane butcher that reverberates with the middle ages' social stigma of the meat-processing professions. A sense of revulsion, in this day and age more than ever, is associated with slaughter and death of animals - mainly due to the spilling of blood - for do we not all bleed red?

Bleeding red...it evokes an instinctual sympathetic response, triggering flight or the notion to help in most human beings...and here we have yet another intriguing component: This sympathetic response can obviously rise: For as long as there was fiction of blood, there also was a connotation of the sexual inherent in its appearance. From the bodily fluid of the female menstruation to the child-birth, the connotations of a triumphant hunt or battle - in no other symbolically charged part of our bodies has there ever been more of a blending, more of a fusion of Eros and Thanatos than in the blood that courses through our veins. Beyond the obvious requirement of blood flow for intercourse, the red lipstick, rouge on the cheeks, the red, sweaty lips set against a dark beard - all of these and infinitely more signify the passion of blood. We blush due to it. Our blood pump, commonly known as heart, accelerates when we are aroused. It does not require a fetish of blood drinking or any sort of kink to appreciate the powerful imagery and functionality that is associated with blood.

While the history of the non-folklore-vampire is a relatively brief one, our mythologies are stuffed to the brim with creatures feasting upon the blood of the mortals, prolonging their life and that often in sexually charged ways, coupling a thirst for blood with a thirst for a deviantly-coded sexuality free of the fetters of concern and empathy: The excess of spilled blood collocated into sexuality, blending the adrenaline-charged association of triumphantly dancing on the verge of death with the ample linguistically implied associations with La petite mort.

This is an intriguing turn of phrase, mind you: It originally pointed towards not our commonly used synonym for orgasm, but simply denoted a loss of consciousness and control. Consciousness and control - two factors that we value as a species, that we need to survive...and that, ultimately are NOT associated with any of the nigh-indefinite connotations we have with blood when we take a look at the above. Blood is excess, passion and ID running rampant - it is NOT control.

Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that there frankly is no tale in horror as well-known; none that has been adapted in this staggering amount of guises. The themes, ultimately remain - but they change. Oh, how do they change. Ask any person on the street whether they know what "Dracula" is and they'll know. Only...they don't. You see, we all have probably encountered the count in one of his hundreds of incarnations in various media and forms of art and when we haven't encountered him, we have encountered mythology derived from the original tale of the bloodsucking vampire, charged with eroticism. Take a look at any given array of vampire novels, from the infamous Twilight-books to the Shadow Chronicles or similar works of fiction and you'll find a plethora of narratives sporting a female (or male - this is 2016, after all!) heroine/hero who has to tame the dark and brooding vampire, come to terms with the associations and implicit violence and thus, ultimately, transcend death itself. It's basically a twist on the beauty and the beast-narrative, a tale, literally as old as time.

This, however, was not always so - the folkloristic origins of Dracula and many a bloodsucking mythological creature often were that of...well. Corpses. Decaying, foul corpses rising from the grave to kill their families. The sexual connotation only has been a relatively recent invention, with the eponymous novel Dracula by Bram Stoker being one of the first to exemplify just this. And while we all know the plot of Dracula, supposedly, precious few of us actually do. I mean...we all have heard about Van Helsing, Harker, Mina and the Count himself, obviously. Perhaps we have since then, via one of the countless vampire anime or adaptations heard about Renfield as a servant of Dracula and nebulously picture a kind of vampiric Igor or dashing, subservient underling who homoerotically serves his dominant master. We all know how Dracula and vampires in general have to return to their coffins at dawn, how they are destroyed by the purging rays of light unless they are daywalker-dhampir-half-breeds...you know, one of the most prolific angsty-teen-power-fantasies ever devised in the last generation? Well, if your conceptions of Dracula contained any of these tropes, if you thought by yourself "I don't need to read this, I know it already!" - then you'd be wrong. All of the above is not necessarily so in Bram Stoker's original novel. Come on, if you haven't read this one, then I did blow your mind there, at least a little, right?

And see, that is the point I wanted to make...or at least, it is the first point I wanted to make. Nary an iconic figure has so thoroughly underwent the transformative progress and process of popular culture like Dracula: We know Frankenstein's Monster, Jekyll/Hyde, we have werewolf-lore galore and still, none of these classic creatures of anthropomorphized IDs of the dark romanticism have had quite this impact; much less changed to quite this extent. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, there is, no kidding, a scene wherein the count walks the daylit streets of London with a straw hat on his head. Let that sink in.

How did this come to pass that we know so little about the Dracula we all ostensibly know? Well, to point to the above - the icon remains. Dracula is a symbolic vessel for our anxieties and agendas of a given day and age. When Bram Stoker's original novel gave voice to Mina Harker as a capable, female protagonist whose moral fiber outclassed that of their male brethren throughout most of the novel, later interpretations of the material had different foci: While Mrs. Harker, in the original, ultimately was re-absorbed into the norms and ideas of mainstream society in a lackluster addendum written to appease moral guardians or Stoker's own sensibilities, there can still be no doubt that she already exemplifies a new breed of female character, one beholden neither to the ever more normative feminist movement of her day and age, nor to the patriarchal structures of established mainstream British society- the transgressive element lies not simply in her actions, but also in her skill-set and when she chillingly remarks Dracula as her approaching husband, she is performing two subversions at the same time: On the one hand, this state, sprung from her spoiling through Dracula's blood has explicit connotations with rape and the breaking of one's spirit. In the context of Victorian and fin-de-siècle England, this can be seen as a scathing, sympathy-inducing attack on the angel in the house-ideal of the demure, passion-less woman. At the same time, however, it is also an equalization - for one devotion is replaced with another, with Dracula, according to previous observations, being obviously highly sexualized in his coded depiction.

In later adaptations of Dracula, a subtext of a less obvious nature suddenly sprang to life - namely the matter of fact that he is also a nostalgic relic. A book written in the fin-de-siècle-era obviously needs to contend and address a changing of values and the fears associated with the new world order, the anticipation of upheavals the like of which our species had heretofore never chronicled. English society, at this point, was suffused with a slowly shaking foundation - the 3 grand psychological malaises cast their shadow, as a mankind devoted to science and reason has to come to terms with neither being the center of the universe, nor a creator's chosen master creation, nor master of one's own faculties.

The rise of fascist ideology as an international phenomenon and the anxiety a devolution or degeneration of mankind could bring can perhaps be quoted as one of the reasons why Dracula's original at that time did not elicit the same manner of controversy as The Island of Dr. Moreau. Dracula's theme, though, proved to be the more stable one: For in the Count's nobility, in his origin deep within the Carpathians, he pointed for his contemporary audience towards a literally darker, but also nostalgic time, where science, something the characters in Dracula constantly, obsessively use, was of no importance. Indeed, Dracula requires a return to sacral rites of Catholicism of all religions (quite scandalous in Britain) and folklore; the light of enlightenment, metaphorically and physically, can't seem to touch him. This association with ages past, with "simpler" times is a universal human notion - it was then and still is today. Dracula, in many a rendition in media, is a nostalgic atavism for us as a society, but he is, at the same time the exact opposite.

Above anything else, Dracula is transgression. When a given incarnation depicts him as beholden to the mast, it is to a potentially more romantic past; even if historically this was not true, he still remains sexually charged, emotionally vibrant; he still has all the trappings of the Beauty and the Beast-romantic. Even the number of his brides and his flaunting of conventionalized relationship-paradigms is ultimately transgressive. And when the present is mired in tradition, cluttered by an antique aesthetic, then it's Dracula's task to counteract exactly this with radical modernism and a violation of the aesthetics that have brought him forth - where once, Dracula rose and crept from the shadows, he'll later look down upon humans in the depth. And so, in time, I believe that Dracula will once again walk in sunlight.

Ultimately, the Dracula-characters throughout history remain a grand projection of empowerment...and interestingly, one for both males and females. He is the way out of normative patriarchal structures and suffocating, abuse relationships and familial structures, he is the easy hand to grasp, the male ID fulfilled. He is nostalgia and exactly the character a given generation wants - whether romantic and non-phallic, dominant and suave or bestial and brutal - Dracula has been coded in a myriad of ways in a plethora of movies, books, screen-plays...and games. Obviously. There is a reason why Vampire: The Masquerade had such a huge appeal - it was a fin-de-siècle fantasy for the 21st century, resonating with all of the aforementioned tropes and so much more, without the perceived clutter of the "old" structures and sentences.

You see, having read pretty much all of the classic pieces of dark romantic literature, I can, without a doubt say, that many of them, to our day and age's sensibilities, are somewhat plodding. Conditioned to enjoy short-lived and to the point entertainment and immediate gratification, I have witnessed, though never quite understood, the frustration with this literature. Until I had to read it all during my MA. Oh boy. Confession-time: I'll never, ever touch Dickens out of my own volition again. And "Wieland", the first American gothic novel actually made me fall asleep while reading it - a feat only a select few tomes have accomplished. I'm not the biggest fan of this kind of prose, preferring more the engaging and challenging works of Modernism and Post-Modernism. HOWEVER, I also encountered a lot of gems - I won't have to tell you that Poe holds up to this date. You know it. And while e.g. "The String of Pearls", the basis for the recently adapted Sweeny Todd-story was a chore to read, other books weren't. Cue in Bram Stoker's Dracula. While less frantic than most contemporary novels, this book remains, to this date, a page-turner. The constantly changing perspectives of narrators and their letters, diary entries etc. keep you engaged as you try to puzzle together the components. And the book actually wastes no time for the "big reveal" - you don't lose anything by knowing that Dracula is a vampire, nay, THE vampire. The book, pretty much from the get-go, makes this clear and then is all about struggling with this threat. And, from a gamer's perspective, the characters actually behave pretty much like a roleplaying group in CoC, ToC, or Night's Black Agents - you see different attributes and skills if you closely look; you see the drives of the characters. One could almost ostensibly assume it was a work penned about a certain horror campaign in Night's Black Agents Stoker personally played...

Which brings me full circle to this book - this is literature, yes. This is the original Dracula...but it is more. The premise of this book is deceptively simple: Dracula is real, there was a conspiracy, things went horribly wrong. Now the original file has fallen into your hands - with annotations by no less than three generations of agents fighting the vampiric conspiracy...or are they? Dracula has always existed in the fringes, in the haze; the demarcation line between light and day, passion and control, norms and rebellion - and now, once again, his narrative is put into the context of a new age, a new medium that is, much like Dracula, at the same time an old medium: This is a gaming supplement and it is literature. It is a fusion of the old and new, of nostalgia framed by no less than 3 meta-narratives - whose intrusion into the text is handled surprisingly smart. In color-coded hand-written notes and annotations, they tend to ultimately crop up in the filler-scenes, remark upon small, seemingly unremarkable details...and add whole new meaning and ultimately, terror to the book. When one can see the inevitable happy end approaching, one knows that it's, in fact, not the end - and we get to know why.

One of the achievements of the annotations and new content is that they take the small bits and pieces and point them out to the readers; Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan did their research: Did you know that the first, Icelandic edition (Makt Myrkranna - Sagan af Drakúla greifa) of this book has a preface that mentions Jack the Ripper? Well, I did, but only because I studied both Icelandic and English literature extensively. Well, this book is full of such interesting tidbits...and the sheer fact that the original Dracula and his behaviors have become alien to our sensibilities, that he, indeed at this point is different from our expectations of what Dracula is, makes reading this book intriguing to say the least. But what about the clash of narrative voices? I actually indulged in a little experiment and handed this book to a friend of mine who had not read the original Dracula - and guess what? She was flabbergasted when she realized that this was not all penned by Mr. Stoker - Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have mastered the peculiarities of Stoker's style and vocabulary to the dot and, as a whole, this rendered "re-reading" Dracula actually a fulfilling experience, in spite of my excellent memory..

How good is my memory? Well, unless I have to look up a particular wording, I do not read any books twice. I can still recall the plots of movies, books, comics...the whole shebang I have consumed. My memory, at least for the purpose of retaining this type of information, seems to be quite pronounced. This means I basically remembered the whole original book. I still had more than just a bit of fun - the 3 meta-narratives and their epochs that are reflected in verbiage and in how they interact, lend a whole new dimension to an already inspired, intriguing book and the new bits and pieces integrate so seamlessly into the overarcing structure, they actually enhance the plot rather than just stretching it - this is, in fact, a better piece of literature than the original.

We are gamers. We are roleplayers. This is literature and, at the same time, the most massive hand-out I have ever held in my hands. So go out there, get this book, preferably in print - and when your investigators or agents or simply bibliophile players find a strange unredacted file, just hand them this book. It's perhaps the most awesome set-up for a campaign you can wish for, a huge, immersive facilitator of play, a book that they can analyze, engage and pick apart - this is a gaming supplement, exceedingly educational for players and GMs alike and a glorious supplement beyond the confines of Night's Black Agents, though, obviously playing The Dracula Dossier will amplify the experience beyond belief. By the way - those strange notes spread throughout the text? Those numbers? They are here for a reason, but since that reason is relevant to the gaming aspect and not necessarily required for the enjoyment of this book, I'll cover them in the second part of this review - the one on the game mechanics book, the Director's Handbook.

For now, let me express my gratitude for reading my rambling analysis of this wonderful supplement...and then go. Get this.

I'm old-school, I'd suggest the bound hardcover I used when writing this. But the pdf has also its glorious charm: Why? Because it's a glorious handout as well - you can tease this book...perhaps the PCs find some pages with one annotation type...and others that have another: You see, the pdf is layered and allows you to turn on and off the annotations of the respective agents and even the text. Hand them a white paper with only some cryptic annotations and watch agents trying to find the obscure means of making the text reappear. Yes - this is awesome from both an in-game and out-game point of view, exceedingly ambitious and a sheer joy to read and digest - a Dracula for our age. Now go ahead and weave your story with this, read a tale both old and new, literature that is a game in its experience and in its nature as a supplement. You won't regret it.

My final verdict, obviously, will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and though this was released last year, I only managed to read an analyze it now - hence it is nominated as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Get this and read Dracula like you've never read or experienced the yarn before.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted
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