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gumshoe, Night's Black Agents

The Dracula Dossier–Six Months In

So our agents have now had six months to chase Dracula and Edom. So how is that all working out?

Well, the game has been fun. Or at least I hope it’s been. So we got that going for us. But longer-term play has definitely shown both the positives and negatives of both Night’s Black Agents and the Dracula Dossier campaign.

First of all, while it makes for great advertising copy, using a novel as a handout turned out to be a complete bust. It’s simply too big for most people to digest. They don’t want homework. They want clues. Now, you can just open it to a random page and start investigating, but putting that into practice isn’t as easy, at least not in my opinion, as the game book makes it out to be. Ok, there’s a link to this NPC from page whatever, but that may not have anything constructive to do with what they’ve already experienced. It’s nice to say “well improvise,” but that’s just not realistic. Corresponding to that, there aren’t a whole lot of other relevant handouts and what there is are only available in add-on packs. I mean. Jesus. I wasn’t in on the Kickstarter, so how much do I have to spend on this thing?

The second issue is combat. It’s not Gumshoe’s forte, but I think it’s fair to say that combat is more or less a mainstay of thriller movies. There’s a variety of additions, and they do a decent job of taking a more or less lackluster system and adding some complexity, but it’s still not great. You do get some really cool narrative stuff out of it. For example, we have someone who regularly uses distraction moves to give a shooter points and that’s resulted in some very quick and cool scenes. We also had someone use the “smash against object” thing to kill a possessed wild dog. But while the narrative sounds good when I write the games up afterwards, during play what it boils down to is a formula where you add six points to your roll–3 to guarantee a hit and enable the possibility of a critical if you roll 6 and the additional three for a called shot to the heart adding 3 damage.

So it isn’t any good? No, really, it’s quite good. It’s an amazing sourcebook and the entire concept of the campaign is fantastic. I’m able to plot out things and I have lots of pre-made encounters and ideas all set up and ready to go. But pretty much every session, I’m spending an hour or two writing notes about what’s going to happen in the next session. The idea that you can just roll with the punches isn’t anything I can do. It’s more a setting book than a campaign.

The final issue is that it’s tough to keep a campaign going on roll20 for an extended period of time. We’ve gone through a pretty constant churn of players who can’t make this or that time. And without the bonds of friendship that you’d get in a real world group, it’s harder to get everyone to make the commitment to schedule around someone’s special snowflake schedule. If I was going to do another campaign, I think I’d work on finding players on a somewhat longer basis before transitioning to a campaign and I’d probably do a lot more interviewing about peoples’ expectations.

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