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Stalking the Night Fantastic

Entry updated 20 June 2020. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (1983). Tri Tac Games. Designed by Richard Tucholka, Chris Belting.

While it is often reminiscent of the similarly titled Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975), Stalking the Night Fantastic takes a far more light-hearted approach to its investigations of the alien and the extraordinary. Players adopt the roles of agents of "Bureau 13", a secret branch of the US government founded in the 1860s to fight the dark side of the paranormal world while keeping its more peaceful denizens hidden and safe from human mobs. Most of the cases Bureau agents encounter are likely to be supernatural in nature, but some may involve such science-fictional concepts as Time Travel, rogue AIs, Mutants, Psionic Hive Minds and ancient astronauts (see Erich von Däniken). Much emphasis is placed on the humorous and the bizarre; this is an America in which suburban thuggee, seafood-obsessed monks and vampire carrots are commonplace. While the game's setting is appealing, its mechanics tend towards complexity, with an excessive focus on combat. This difficulty is present in not only the first and the similar second (1984) editions, but also in the revised and expanded 1990 version. This latter edition was renamed Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic, a title which has been used for all subsequent versions, including the similar fourth edition (1992) and the much improved 2008 d20 variant. One particularly notable aspect of the game is the number of subsequent television shows and Comics which make use of similar ideas, including The X-Files (1993-2002), Sanctuary (2008-current), Fringe (2008-2013), Warehouse 13 (2009-current) and Mike Mignola's B.P.R.D. (2002-current). It is also remarkable for the Bureau's frequent use of nonhuman agents, including Vampires and Werewolves. This is a game in which the monsters investigate the monsters, on the government dime.

Bureau 13 (1995 Take-Two Interactive, DOS, Win) designed by Rick Hall, Thomas Howell is a graphical Adventure which is perhaps better known than the RPG from which it was derived. The game begins with the player selecting two Bureau operatives from the six choices available, after which they are assigned to cover up the activities of a rogue agent. Interestingly, the player is rewarded not only for solving puzzles but also for not drawing attention to their characters' activities. Another appealing aspect of the design is the use of a broadly multilinear structure for the game's Interactive Narrative; depending on the characters chosen, different puzzle solutions and plot paths become accessible. While the puzzles are occasionally obscure and the character interactions can seem artificial, the game's droll dialogue and the complex conspiracy in which the characters rapidly become entangled make it an intriguing and enjoyable experience.

Related works: The background of Stalking the Night Fantastic is loosely linked to that of Fringeworthy (1982), and references The Morrow Project (1980). Nick Pollotta has written a trilogy of entertaining novels in the setting: Bureau 13 (1991; vt Judgement Night 2001), Full Moonster (1992) and Doomsday Exam (1992). Damned Nation (2005), also by Pollotta, is a distant prequel dealing with the early days of the Bureau during the American Civil War. [NT]


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