Interview: Ken Hite, Author of The Dracula Dossier

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I took the opportunity to talk with Ken Hite, author of Pelgrane Press’s upcoming roleplaying game supplement The Dracula Dossier (and collator of Dracula Unredacted).  Essentially, the Dracula Dossier is a roleplaying game supplement (coming out on Halloween, naturally) designed for the horror-spy roleplaying game system Night’s Black Agents.  Click on the player above to listen to my 23 minute interview with Ken, or click here to download the 15.7 MB MP3 file.

Below are a couple highlights from the interview: the first is Ken describing the basic concept behind both Nights Black Agents and the Dracula Dossier itself.

Ken Hite: ...the subtitle that we use is “vampire spy thriller,” and the sort of high concept - the elevator pitch I used to give to people -- is “Jason Bourne vs Dracula,” or if they had seen The Bourne Trilogy "The Bourne Trilogy if Redstone were vampires." The goal being, you’re playing burned agents, deniable agents, agents who are out there on the front lines - mysteriously without resources - and you discover that you've been working for vampires at some point.

And so you have to hunt the vampires to destroy them, because they know that you're hunting them - and they know that you know, so they're hunting you to kill you. So it's “hunt or be hunted:” very much a thriller based game. It's -- unlike most roleplaying games, the campaigns have a definitive end when you have either killed the lead vampires or been destroyed by them, so it keeps a drive going, there’s a narrative. There's a number of sort of sub-mechanics that help focus the narrative and move things along, like a good thriller or thrilller series: so think something like Taken, but only expand it out to a roleplaying game level: or, like I'd said, The Bourne Trilogy, if Redstone was vampires.

Moe Lane: The system runs off of Robin Laws' GUMSHOE system, as I recall. And, also for the benefit of my readers, that’s basically a system that attempts to do roleplaying with the basic emphasis being on investigation, and mysteries, and clue solving, as opposed to say combat, which is what most roleplaying game systems concentrate on.  How do you feel that the spy thriller fiction aspect and the vampire fiction -- how do you find they interact? Was it a hard fit to make?

Ken Hite: No. Spies and vampires have a lot in common. They both mostly come out at night; they're deniable, nobody wants to act like they exist. We all however know exactly what they look like: for something that doesn’t exist -- or something we're not supposed to know about -- we know an awful lot about both things. So they both have a really strong mythology; obviously in the Twentieth Century there was a great of work done to build the mythology of both of them by authors -- and governments, depending.  And the ongoing sort of analogies that people put into vampirism -- that vampires represent some unknown alien force that is sucking away the life of your community -- is the sort of thing that spy fiction also addresses.

The spy thriller classically presents either a traitor at the heart of your heroic bureaucracy, or a traitor who has infiltrated himself into the country -- or into the world, sometimes -- and that has to be rooted out by decisive action. So, again, if you think of Dracula as a foreign agent operating in England: Van Helsing and company hunt him down, and chase him back to his home territory, and terminate him.  And it was that parallel between vampire novels and spy fiction that got me thinking “All right? What if the greatest vampire novel of all - Dracula - is also a spy novel? What’d still be true? What has to be added?” And surprisingly very little has to be removed in any way. it's really just of a matter of sort of telling the rest of the story, not of changing the story in any real respect.