Saturday, 28 May 2016

Old School vampire hunting

They seek him here, they seek him there...
We're currently in the middle of playing the Dracula Dossier campaign, but instead of using Night's Black Agents, we're using a hybrid system of Basic Roleplaying / Call of Cthulhu with some of the NBA mechanics, like trust and sources of stability. We're calling it Night's BRP Agents, but it still very much an old school system, firmly founded on Call of Cthulhu, which has changed little since it was first printed in 1981.

It is not Savage Worlds, where players have recourse to bennies to preserve their characters, plus an injury table that can save their bacon. Nor is it Dungeons and Dragons, in its current iteration, with characters able to make a series of saving throws to keep themselves alive as they lie bleeding out on the floor. Nor is it NBA, where players have recourse to a Health pool and scope to go into negative Health as well in order to stay in the game. The opportunities for a total party kill (TPK) are few in these games, although it it still possible to lose a character if you are extremely unlucky and we have lost them using these systems. Not so Night's BRP Agents.

While our characters are well-equipped, former agents of government intelligence organisations, with a wide range of contacts, the ability to hack into protected databases and acquire sniper rifles on the black market, they are still physically fragile. Call of Cthulhu and indeed RuneQuest, its progenitor, were written at a time when high levels of character fatality were frequent and tolerable. I remember routinely allocation TWO PCs to players in my Cthulhu games, largely because character death was to be expected and frequently occurred. At school -  in the 1980s - we routinely played multiple characters, creating bigger, 10 character parties, again because we expected to lose adventurers.

In last night's game, our team walked into an ambush set by a London-based vampire cult they are currently investigating (although I'm coming to the conclusion that the cult's links to main villain Count Dracula may be spurious, given the seeming lack of members of the intelligence community in its ranks). We raided a warehouse in day light hoping to put an end to at least one vampire, only to find him very much ready for us, seemingly immune to sunlight and, oh yes, wearing a suicide vest.

In the course of a one-sided combat, our Russian assassin character Natasha fired a taser at the vampire, only to send a high voltage electric charge through the suicide vest. Efforts to prevent this by my Israeli demolitions expert failed, and the vest exploded. At this point, the whole team was bunched around the vampire, trying to stop it with everything from holy water to silver knives. Technically, we should all have been dead, and we would have had a campaign-ending total party kill in all its glorious, blood-soaked horror. The GM kindly allowed us Dodge rolls to save ourselves, and the campaign continues. The vampire died shortly after as our British agent, Sten, impaled it with a stake, so at least we've found a way to stop them!

The system we're using has the advantage of making the agents feel vulnerable, particularly now we have realised just how dangerous the undead are in this campaign. However, it also means we could die quite quickly. There is little recourse when something goes badly wrong. My character, Carmel Shaked, is already becoming more unhinged as her Sanity gradually declines, and injuries from the fight with the vampire and a blow to the head earlier in the campaign have left her decidedly fragile. I fear it will soon be time for me to start work on a replacement character. Her ex-husband, a London-based journalist, might be one option, although he does not have much useful tradecraft experience. Another might be one of the surviving members of Ibanez Security in Malaga, who have gone to ground after most of their group went missing in England.

In summary, playing old school systems does bring with it character risk. That element of danger is not danger unless characters die. I think there is a general consensus that we want to continue with a campaign we've invested several evenings in, but I'm not going to be surprised if we lose one or more of our team in the course of it!

Here's a quick trailer for Ultraviolet, the awesome TV series co-starring Jack Davenport and Idris Elba, sadly cancelled after just one season. Although there is only fleeting reference to it in the trailer, there is a warehouse and locked box scene in this that is just mind blowing. Watch it if you are planning to indulge in some Dracula Dossier:

I'm off on holiday to Serbia and Croatia next week. There never seems to be a convenient time to go on holiday. Hence, with illness and just generally being busy, I've not had a proper break since last August, and I'm starting to feel it. I am also looking forward to some hotter weather than Sussex can provide at the moment. I am taking some interesting reading with me, including Barbarians of Lemuria and Dread. I am also taking Monster of the Week, which is part of the 'Powered by the Apocalypse Engine' series of games, started with Apocalypse World. I'm intrigued by these and wish to investigate further. I may even cook up a scenario for Barbarians if I have time to scribble.

1 comment:

  1. Yes. Having played NBA & SW & other systems such as that uber-hard core True d20 Arnie style black ops Project Pi...I am with you on our PCs being very fragile. We walked straight into that one. Using Dodge was legitimate in Pulp BRP rules. Though we would also have 2x our hps.

    Am glad we survived. It would have felt very anti-climatical to have died in a TPK. So soon. Need to create an automated email trigger for our deaths to kickstart the next team of chumps!

    Great game. But boy are we vulnerable!