Monday, 18 December 2017

Stoker: First Blood - The Thrilling Conclusion!

This is a summary of a game of Night's Black Agents which I refereed this month. I'm posting this because I was not able to find any report of an actual play of the Stoker: First Blood adventure from the Edom Files collection. This contains SPOILERS. Do not read if you think you might be playing this scenario. If you are planning to umpire it, of course, it could be useful, as I will finish up with some observations. If you have not read the earlier chapters, you can start here.

The Village of Arbanasi, Ottoman Bulgaria, 1877

The Widow of Ekim Dal
As the sun began to sink behind the Balkan Mountains, the adventurers decided the time had come to beat a hasty retreat to the old mosque. Here they found the old imam was still present. Further work with him provided little else, other than that he found the wife of Ekim Dal impossible to resist. The heroes closed and barred the doors of the mosque and prayed they would be overlooked. As the sun went down, however, a ground mist arose and soon obscured outside visibility to less than 10 feet. Then, soft, feminine footsteps were heard to circle the building. It was not looking good.

In this sort of situation, there is little to do but pray for daylight. Stoker was the first to notice that the old imam had stopped muttering and was now sitting upright, clearly examining each of them in turn with renewed lucidity. The major quickly took steps to have the ancient man bound and blind folded. It was then they head a woman's voice speaking to them from beyond the door.

"Why do you forsake my hospitality, O strangers from the West," came a lilting voice in Turkish. "Why reject me and seek to flee my house?"

But there was no way anyone was going to open that door. Even when the earth started to shake and parts of the roof fell in. Plaster came away from the walls. Vambery crouched praying with the Koran held in front of him. Then the doors were burst inward and standing on the threshold of the building was a slight woman in the traditional black outer garb of an Ottoman noblewoman. She looked about 30 years old, with dark, striking Mediterranean features. She extended one hand out to the men in the mosque.

Firstly, Crosse began to suddenly feel tired and passed out on the floor. Then Vambery started forward suddenly, moving with glassy-eyed gait in the direction of the exit. "Come to me," whispered the vampire.

"Restrain him somebody!" barked Major Stoker, both pistols drawn and pointing at the creature, his teeth gritted against its malign psychic influence.

Forbes reached and seized Vambery before he could leave the mosque. The Hungarian struggled weakly but the journalist hung onto him desperately. The woman in the doorway hissed furiously. Then she turned, and retreated from them back into the mist. Vambery suddenly came back to his senses.

With the vampire gone, so the mist outside the mosque began to dissipate. Eventually it cleared away completely. The old imam was now sleeping, no longer struggling against his bonds. The night passed.

Standing watch at a window at about two o'clock in the morning, Stoker spotted a figure in the distance on the edge of the village. He was standing on the opposite side of the stream that flowed along the northern edge of the settlement. He looked like a Turkish soldier, wearing the uniform of an officer. He remained staring fixedly at the mansion for some two hours. Then, at the first crow of a cock in Arbanasi, he turned and began walking away into the mountains, eventually vanishing between the ruins of the old Bulgarian fort.

With the morning, the team crept gingerly out of the mosque and basked in the sunshine. Relieved they were still alive, they resolved to get out of Arbanasi on foot. But first they ransacked the buildings in the village for lamp oil. Enough was found to splash liberally around the foundations of the house.

Major Stoker then strode forward and set light to the vampire's mansion. As it went up in flames, the men stood back, armed and ready. Screams and cries of alarm were heard from within. Then two of the eunuchs came running out of the front door as the flames licked high up the sides of the mansion. Stoker and Forbes opened fire on them immediately and neither made it further than a few yards. The rest of the inhabitants were burned alive in the conflagration [Stability checks all round for this one - but they stood their ground].

With the mansion now collapsing in on itself, and with no other survivors emerging, the adventurers heard the sound of hooves. From the south, in the direction of Tirnova, came a column of Russian cavalry, Cossacks by the look of them, several dozen strong. Quickly, the British fled over the stone wall into the peach orchards, where they hid and watched the Russian scouts from a safe distance.

The Cossacks ransacked the village while some officers watched the burning building curiously and inspected the dead eunuchs in front of it. Eventually the Russians departed, heading north into the Hainkoi pass.

The party emerged from their hiding places in the orchard and set off cautiously down the road, heading south to Tirnova. Eventually they ran into another Russian patrol which took them prisoner. As neutrals in the conflict, however, they could look forward to a short stay in Russian custody before their eventual release, probably in Romania.

Final thoughts on Stoker - First Blood

This is probably what you would call a score draw in the vampire hunting business. The adventure is designed to serve as a back story component which can potentially be accessed by agents in a Dracula Dossier campaign. The idea is you would take a break from the main campaign when written evidence of the above adventure is discovered and play through this one shot, before returning to the principal campaign arc.

The adventure distills into two core encounters with the undead. It is fairly flexible, although most groups will likely visit the Devil's Cave before going on to Arbanasi. By the time they do reach the village, they will probably already be pretty suspicious of Ekim Dal's widow.

In my game, neither of the vampires were killed. Ekim Dal did not need to engage, as his ghouls were more than enough of a challenge for the party, while his wife exhausted her Aberrance trying to winkle the party out of their fortified position in the mosque.

Once ensconced in the mosque, they proved to be difficult to get out, particularly as she had spent points on covering her approach with mist. She could have used more Aberrance  to collapse the mosque but that would have potentially killed all inside, which was something she was seeking to avoid.

The scenario takes a while to get moving, as the party heads across Bulgaria, but it helps if a group is new to Gumshoe to get them up to speed on the mechanics before anything deadly happens to them. We probably spent 90 minutes of game time before they entered the Devil's Cave.

This is not a brilliant scenario. The scenes in Arbanasi can be very tense for the players. Failing to stop the ghouls in the cave might have been frustrating, but then again, this is Night's Black Agents - player characters cannot expect to win every battle they undertake. My other worry is that IF a party should succeed against the ghouls AND Ekim Dal, which I accept is unlikely, there may be no reason to go to Arbanasi at all. You may be left with one big fight in the Devil's Cave, and that would be that.

I need to do my homework on the combat rules in NBA, which are a good deal more detailed than Trail of Cthulhu or The Esoterrorists. The fight in the cave could have been run with much more granular action than it was; I'm not sure how much value it would have added. I still remain in two minds about Gumshoe and its ability to manage action scenes properly. NBA has more emphasis on spectacular fights, but Gumshoe was written for a more investigative game than this, I suspect.


  1. Have not read it. But I hope you can return to the UK and run it for us lot!!!

    1. Unlikely, as I was not sufficiently impressed with it as a scenario to run it a second time. I think it works as a good intro to Gumshoe for people not familiar with it, but it has some big holes in it. I'd rather try the second one in the collection, the Carmilla Sanction.