What if? What if Dracula was real and moreover the subject of an attempt to recruit him by British Intelligence... an attempt which failed? And what if Bram Stoker's novel Dracula is but a heavily-redacted version of the after-action report?
This is the core premise upon which The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook is built, but in spectacular fashion. It's not a scenario or even a campaign but a mammoth toolbox of resources to enable you to take this 'What if?' and run with it, run in whatever direction you'd like to go. For the original 'What if?' is only the beginning. In 1940, the Allies tried to use Dracula to bring Romania into the war on their side (but succeeded only in driving them to join the Axis instead). Then in the 1960s... and there's loads more, with everything referenced and scribbled down in The Dracula Dossier ... and so we reach the next 'What if?'. What if your party got its hands on The Dracula Dossier and started to investigate it?
And they can. The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted puts the entire text, from 1894 right to the present day, in your players' hands, just as their characters are sent a copy in your game. Possibly the most epic playaid ever, they can root through it and find avenues of investigation - whilst you pore through this Director's Handbook for all the resources you need to run the events and encounters that result from their research. By turning Bram Stoker's novel into the bowdlerised version of a spy thriller, and then releasing the unredacted version, a whole new spin is put on vampires... and who better to investigate than Night's Black Agents?
It is all very improvisational... and can even be collaborative if you choose. It's up to you what is actually going on, and you could choose to allow player choices about what strand they wish to investigate determine what's actually true and important - as their characters are, after all, supposed to be experienced veteran agents - rather than decide for yourself long before the game begins. Basically, the annotations in Dracula Unredacted provide the leads whilst this Director's Handbook gives you a wealth of options for what each clue means. There are even some ideas for playing this differently - perhaps for some reason the characters only have a copy of the novel, or maybe in your world Dracula Unredacted is a myth which they'll have to find (if it exists) whilst dealing with those who would rather it did not come to light! And if you have an established Night's Black Agents campaign in which vampires are either completely different from the 'Dracula' sort or don't exist at all, then this still can make a mammoth sourcebook of people and places... or perhaps there's more than one sort of vampire out there?
There's plenty of advice about building your conspyramid, and how to use the names and other references to bemuse or aid your party as the game progresses. Suggestions are cross-referenced so that you know who belongs where, but there's loads of flexibility to let you make what you want of the whole thing. This isn't something you pick up and run straight from the text like many published adventures, but with good pre-planning and a thorough knowledge of this book's contents, you can react swiftly to whatever your players decide to do, confident that it's all going to fit together in the end.,/p>
The actual resources are arranged thematically, starting with an overview of the 1894 origins and the legacies left behind. Then there's a look at the various forces interested in the matter at hand, most of whom will be opposed to the pesky party poking around. Next comes a massive collection of people who are (or were) involved subsequent to the plot's origins. They are grouped by era: 1940, 1977 and 2011. Locations (arranged by nation) and objects follow and then there are three 'scenario spines' intended as exemplars of how your campaign might develop - with the comforting note that yours doesn't need to be laid out so well as you are the only one who needs to understand it! Of course you may like one or more of them enough that you'll make use of them in developing your own campaign. These are followed by several 'capstones' designed to provide appropriate climactic endings to your campaign. Again, use one of these or come up with your own as appropriate.
All the above give structure and substance to what you are building, but where does style come in? This is addressed in a section on 'campaign frames', three options which allow you to shape your campaign as a fight against terrible forces (almost Cthulhu-style), as the sort of thriller you might read during a long flight, or as a twisted conspiracy that's run from 1894 right through to the present day and which is carrying on secretly right now. Take your pick, based on the sort of games you like to run, and which your players enjoy. Finally, the city of Bucharest is presented in detail.
This is a mammoth work to take aboard - and I don't mean the nearly 400 pages it comprises! The sheer scope of the campaign mixed with exceptional flexibility mean that there is the potential to create a truly epic series of adventures with your players, games that will be remembered and talked about for as long as... well, the Dracula stories themselves.
[5 of 5 Stars!]