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Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin in Night Stalker)

Carl Kolchak

(Darren McGavin take)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

Carl Kolchak appeared in a 1970 novel, which couldn’t find a publisher. Oddly enough it was nevertheless adapted as a television film (with Richard Matheson doing the play), the published. Thus, Kolchak is better-known from the 1972+ movies, starting with The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler.

Kolchak is one of the great horror/supernatural protagonists of that era, as The Night Stalker was remarkably well-received. This character profile is based on the Kolchak seen in The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler TV movies and the Kolchak: The Night Stalker television series.

Karel (Carl) Kolchak as originally created by Jeff Rice in his novel The Kolchak Papers differs from the TV Carl in several ways, most notably physical appearance. My decision to base my write-up on our intrepid reporter’s TV incarnation with Rice’s book serving as a secondary source of biographical info should in no way be construed as a lack of respect for Kolchak’s true creator.

In short, Mr. Rice is da’ man !


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Background

  • Real Name: Karel Kolchak (In The Kolchak Papers by Jeff Rice, Kolchak’s given name is Karel ; Carl is his nickname).
  • Note: Carl is never referred to as The Night Stalker at anytime, either during the films or any of the series’ episodes. The Night Stalker actually refers to Janos Skorzeny, Carl’s vampiric foe from the first TV movie.
  • Other Aliases: Numerous and varied. In pursuit of a story, Carl will pose as any number of fictitious people including health inspectors, doctors, and police officers. These aliases usually have names like Carl Coleworth or Carl Kolberg (GMs should treat such an impersonation as a Bluff attempt).
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Mike (Mikel?) Kolchak (grandfather ; deceased), Karel (last name unrevealed; grandfather ; deceased.) In addition, Carl does have a number of fictitious brothers. Whenever some unappreciative subject of one of his less flattering stories intends to do him bodily harm, Carl is quick to finger his ’brother‘ Marshall or Sidney as the real culprit.
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile (predominantly Chicago, Illinois).
  • Height: 5’9”? Weight: 150 lbs?
  • Eyes: Hazel Hair: Red


Powers and Abilities

Carl Kolchak is an investigative journalist of rare ability. Naturally inquisitive, he brings a fine deductive, if unprincipled, mind to his work. He is a keen observer of human (and inhuman) behavior and a gifted writer. He has cultivated contacts in virtually every strata of society from small time hood to religious brother and from ER doctor to big city cab driver.


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Physically, Kolchak is no world-beater. Years of upsetting the wrong types of people have developed in Carl a phenomenally strong instinct for survival, however. He can dodge, climb, drive, and sneak as if his life depended on it. It often does !

Kolchak is an OK photographer – but he probably will never get any art prize. Still, he’s quite proficient with photography back when that involved dark rooms, various chemicals and the like.

He also has a gift for finding obscure, even occult information about stuff. In DC Heroes RPG terms, the + 1CS bonus from his Expertise helps counteract penalties for researching information on ill-documented supernatural matters.


History

Carl Kolchak was born in 1922. During World War II, he spent two years in the armed forces. In 1948, he graduated from Columbia University  with a degree in journalism. He landed a job as a copyboy in Chicago, hence his familiarity with that city (in The Kolchak Papers, Carl was a copyboy in Boston).

From there, his resume is jam-packed with hirings and firings. He was fired twice in Chicago, three times each in Washington and Boston and twice in New York City before winding up at The Las Vegas Daily News in 1963. The job in Vegas lasted for seven years until the events of May 1970 (?). Until Janos Skorzeny…

The Night Stalker

On May 18, Carl Kolchak is called back from his first vacation in two and a half years by his managing editor, Tony Vincenzo. He’s assigned a story he describes as “a two-day-old, third rate murder.” It seems that the body of a 23 year old, Gold Dust Saloon Casino employee by the name of Cheryl Ann Hughes had been found stuffed into a garbage can early on the morning of the 16th.

Kolchak quizzes one of his reliable sources at County General Hospital as to Ms. Hughes’ cause of death. But the source can only tell him that she lost a lot of blood.

On May 20, at 7:02 a.m. the body of 27 year old cocktail waitress, Bonnie Reynolds is found. She, too, lost a great deal of blood none of which is at the scene. In addition, the body is surrounded by sand without a footprint anywhere near it. She had to have been thrown at least 15 feet.

The body count increases. A report by the pathology experts reveal that the women died of shock due to a massive and very quick loss of blood. What’s more, the throat wounds on each victim’s neck contain traces of human saliva. This convinces Carl that Vegas is being terrorized by a psychotic who’s seen one too many Dracula movies.

This theory is further strengthened when Carl gets word from his County General spy that the hospital’s blood bank had been burglarized. Then, Carl sees the “madman” in action robbing another blood bank.

Stalking the night journalistic

The man later identified by authorities as 71 year old (!) Janos Skorzeny, tosses around burly hospital orderlies and trained police officers. He is shot repeatedly at point blank range but succeeds in escaping, outrunning a police car in the process.

As if this encounter wasn’t enough to shatter Carl’s vampire-obsessed psychotic theory, he gets another opportunity to see Skorzeny in action when the police surround him by a backyard pool. The tall, snarling Skorzeny is again shot repeatedly, beaten by swarms of police officers, and half-drowned in the pool but he keeps getting up and fighting back.

Kolchak is finally able to convince the authorities that they have a real, live (well, dead) vampire on there hands. In exchange for Carl’s help they agree to allow him exclusive rights to Skorzeny’s story once he’s captured.

When word reaches Carl from one of his street informants that Skorzeny’s lair may have been located, Kolchak is unwilling to wait for the police and enters the decrepit old house alone.

The vampire returns while he is still inside. Carl barely survives Skorzeny’s initial assault. Kolchak’s FBI contact Bernie Jenks arrives but the vampire still seems too much for them. As sunlight streams into the house, Carl and Bernie are finally able to stake Skorzeny, just as the police arrive on the scene.

Kolchak is double-crossed by the local authorities. They kill his story and send him packing, vowing to arrest him for the murder of Janos Skorzeny if he should ever return to Las Vegas. Betrayed and temporarily beaten, Carl leaves town. His dream of once again working for The New York Daily News seems destroyed.

The Night Strangler

In early April of 1973, Kolchak turns up in Seattle, Washington. Coincidentally, Tony Vincenzo is now city editor of The Seattle Daily Chronicle. Tony hires Carl and assigns him a story involving a strangled belly dancer, Merissa (real name Ethel Parker).

Once more the body count rises and once more strange evidence surfaces regarding the killings. The victims’ necks were not so much squeezed as crushed. A hypodermic needle was used to remove a small amount of blood from each victim. And, traces of decomposing flesh were found on the victims’ necks.

Apparently the women had been strangled by a superhumanly strong, dead man.

Researching the story, Kolchak learns that similar murders have occurred in Seattle in the past. Women have been strangled to death every 21 years since 1889, the year of the Great Seattle Fire. The murders always involve six victims being killed over an 18 day period.

When the strangler strikes next, claiming his fifth victim, the police surround him. Kolchak watches in amazement as a virtual replay of the attempted capture of Janos Skorzeny unfolds before him. Just like in Vegas, police are thrown around like rag dolls. Just like in Vegas, the cornered killer is blasted by ineffectual gunfire.

And just like in Vegas, the killer outruns a patrol car to escape justice.

Alchemical

Further research leads Kolchak to believe that Seattle’s current strangler is the same man who murdered women in 1889, 1910, 1931, and 1953. Carl is convinced that the killer is Dr. Richard Malcolm, a Union army surgeon during the Civil War. Through some strange alchemical means, he seemingly learned the secret of immortality.

Carl discovers Malcolm’s lair in the underground city of Old Seattle. There, he is himself discovered by the charming, yet completely psychotic, Doctor.

Dr. Malcolm explains that he first took his immortality elixir, which requires fresh blood as one of its ingredients, in 1868. But in 1889 he discovered that the formula’s life-prolonging effect wasn’t permanent. He began to age, time quickly catching up with him.

Since then, he’s had to take the mixture every 21 years. He’s about to take the sixth and final dose when Carl hurls an inkwell at the still containing the elixir, destroying its contents. Malcolm becomes completely unhinged. Growling like an animal, he lunges at Carl.

But time catches up with Malcolm : he ages rapidly before Carl’s eyes. As the police arrive on the scene, Malcolm plunges through a window to his death.

The events in Las Vegas repeat themselves. Kolchak is fired and his story altered to support the police department’s official version of things. This time, Tony is also shown the door and the two of them leave Seattle together.

An unlikely series, part 1

The following year, finds Kolchak and Vincenzo in Chicago, Illinois working for the Independent News Service.

Chicago must be some sort of supernatural nexus because Carl’s weird adventures continue on an almost weekly basis. He encounters an array of bizarre creatures. All the while he endures close-minded police officials who refuse to see the truth, and battles Tony to get his fantastic stories printed.

While working at INS, Carl:

  • Investigates a killer who may be Jack the Ripper (episode title : The Ripper).
  • Battles a voodoo priestess and her zombified son (The Zombie).
  • Has a close encounter with an unseen extraterrestrial force (They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be [a.k.a.: The UFO].
  • Visits Los Angeles to destroy a now-vampiric victim of Janos Skorzeny (The Vampire).

An unlikely series, part 2

The Christmas season finds Carl on a cruise ship with lycanthrope, Bernhardt Stieglitz (The Werewolf). Upon his return he becomes involved in the story of a pyrokinetic ghost (Fire Fall [a.k.a. The Doppelgänger]).

Carl next faces off against:

  • A politician who has made a deal with the Devil (The Devil’s Platform).
  • A shape-changing, Native American legend (Bad Medicine [a.k.a. The Diablero]).
  • A dream-spawned swamp monster (The Spanish Moss Murders).
  • An invisible, energy-draining entity (The Energy Eater [a.k.a. Matchemonedo]).
  • An advance scout for a demonic invasion force (Horror in the Heights [a.k.a. The Rakshasa]).
  • A robotic fugitive from a secret military project (Mr. R.I.N.G.).

When a frozen sample of cells millions of years old thaw out and grow into an ape-like near man, Carl is on the case (Primal Scream [a.k.a. The Humanoids]). And when sorcery is responsible for a string of deaths in the fashion industry, Carl tracks down the witch (The Trevi Collection).

More unlikely incidents

Carl’s unbelievable string of supernatural adventures continues as he clashes with:

  • A headless motorcyclist (Chopper).
  • A succubus (Demon in Lace).
  • An Aztec mummy and his cult of worshippers (Legacy of Terror [a.k.a. Lord of the Smoking Mirror]).

A series of murders involving medieval weaponry puts Carl on the trail of an animated suit of armor (The Knightly Murders). Then he finds Helen of Troy stealing youth and beauty from the members of a computer dating service (The Youth Killer>).

In his last recorded adventure, at the underground storage facility Merrymount Archive, Inc., Kolchak races to return unearthed eggs to their proper resting place before being killed by their bipedal, reptilian guardian (The Sentry).

Note

Since the end of the Kolchak: The Night Stalker series, Carl has appeared in two further adventures.&

In 1993, he assisted the Manhattan-based hero Renegade against The Night Slayer, a vampiric Jack the Ripper (Renegade #1 published by Magnecom). This produces a nice comic book-like continuity gaff. In this story, Carl is working at The New York Journal. Well, it isn’t The Daily News but beggars can’t be choosers.

In 1994, The Kolchak Papers: Grave Secrets was published. It gave Carl a retcon  worthy of any DC super-hero. The book reveals that Carl’s last television outing (The Sentry) was, in fact, his last story for Independent News Service. Both he and Tony were fired from INS following the events of that story.

The pair relocated to California, bringing their traditional editor-writer relationship to The Los Angeles Dispatch.

Carl is still 40 pushing 50. His references to WWII changed to Việt Nam. How this affects those Kolchak outings that rely on specific dates such as The Night Strangler TV movie and the episode entitled Legacy of Terror [a.k.a. Lord of the Smoking Mirror] is unknown.


Description

One word : disheveled ! Kolchak’s reporter’s “uniform” consists of a perpetually wrinkled, pale blue seersucker suit. He wears a light blue, button-down shirt with a loosely knotted, black knit tie.

A battered, straw porkpie hat with a red and black headband and a pair of equally battered white sneakers complete the ensemble. Kolchak’s tape recorder and camera are often seen slung over one shoulder by long straps that become entangled at the worst of times.

As for the man himself, Kolchak is a young looking 40-something. He is 47 as of the events of The Night Stalker TV movie. He is of average height and build and has wavy red hair and hazel eyes.

He possesses a boyish smile that he displays whenever a story is falling into place. He also has an exasperated look that he saves for anyone in a position of authority that fails to listen to facts.

Literary version

The Carl Kolchak of Rice’s The Kolchak Papers is a different physical type. The literary Kolchak is described as looking like “a boozy ex-prizefighter”.

He favors chinos and a bush jacket. He is known to smoke (cigars), drink (scotch), and curse (at Tony) too much.


Personality

Carl Kolchak is a man of contradictions. He is a skeptic who is nonetheless “open to extreme possibilities” (to quote a kindred soul ). He is a courageous man, tracking down and destroying a risen “offspring” of Janos Skorzeny. Yet he is reduced to gibbering horror when he realizes the swamp creature Peremalfait is after him.

He has a biting wit and uses sarcasm the way other men use their fists. But he can be absolutely charming when the need arises. He is cynical and hard-bitten and an all-around curmudgeon, but he has a soft spot in his heart for his elderly co-worker, INS Advice Columnist Emily (Edith) Cowles.

Power of the press

Who is Kolchak really ? A newspaperman, through and through ! He is stubbornly curious. He pursues his stories with dogged determination and an almost suicidal abandon. This journalistic zeal often lands Kolchak in hot water with his boss Tony Vincenzo, the local police department, and even the federal government.

Many is the time that Tony has had to bail Carl out of jail in the middle of the night for “interfering” with a criminal investigation. That’s okay with Carl, however. A healthy lack of respect for those in positions of authority is just part of a reporter’s job description, as far as he’s concerned.

The one thing that Carl does respect is the power of the press. He is driven by an unwavering conviction that the public has the right to know. His first, last, and, only duty is to his readers, and that duty is “Report the news”.

Unfortunately, most of his more fantastic stories end with him being able to produce little in the way of hard facts. That’s okay with Carl, too. He’ll keep at it ; trying to warn us about the things that go bump in the night. One night, we’ll listen.


Quotes

“This nut thinks he is a vampire ! He has killed four, maybe five women ! He has drained every drop of blood from every one of them ! Now, that is news, Vincenzo, NEWS ! And we are a newspaper ! We are supposed to print news, not suppress it !”


DC Universe History

There are any number of ways to retro-fit Kolchak into the DC Universe. Probably a GM’s best bet is to have most of his documented supernatural encounters occur before the current heroic age, perhaps 12 to 15 years ago. In this way, Carl is allowed to be the hero of adventures that, by rights, should have warranted Super-intervention.

Many of the menaces that Kolchak faced present great opportunities for possible DC connections. But there are wonderful possibilities for grounding Carl himself in the DCU, as well. Perhaps the big time newspaper that Carl is so determined to get back to in The Night Stalker is not The New York Daily News but The Daily Planet. Perry White might have been a journalistic rival of Carl’s.

Did Carl ever investigate the Spectre ? Has he ever run afoul of Jason Blood and his demonic alter ego ? Has he crossed paths with the Challengers of the Unknown or Dr. Thirteen at some point ? Has Baron Winters ever drafted Carl into one of his Night Forces ?

Carl can easily be used as an NPC in a current adventure. He might be tracked down (via old newspaper clippings) by player characters who need some practical information on the Occult. He might come to them for help when no one else will listen to his stories of a monster in the sewers or a demon on the loose.

And if any of the PC’s have a shady background with a supernatural twist, Carl may wind up on their trail.


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Carl Kolchak

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: Responsibility of Power
Int: 05 Wil: 04 Min: 04 Occupation: Investigative Reporter
Inf: 03 Aur: 04 Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: 04
Init: 011 HP: 045

Skills:
Acrobatics (Dodging, Climbing): 03, Artist (Writer): 04, Artist (photographer): 01, Charisma (Persuasion): 04, Detective (Clue Analysis, Legwork): 05, Occultist (occult lore): 02, Thief (Stealth): 03, Vehicles (Land): 04

Advantages:
Area Knowledge (Chicago, Illinois), Expertise (information research), Credentials (press), Omni-Connection, Sharp Eye, Rich Friend (25 pts – can be used once per week. This represent funds from the paper).

Connections:
INS Managing Editor Anthony Albert ’Tony‘ Vincenzo (High), Chicago Morgue Attendant Gordon ’Gordy the Ghoul‘ Spangler (High), FBI Agent Bernie Jenks (High, The Night Stalker TV movie only).

Drawbacks:
CIA (“The Story”, which is whatever news item has currently piqued his interest), Miscellaneous: Kolchak has what amounts to the Mistrust Drawback in Las Vegas, Nevada. Because of the events of the first Night Stalker TV movie, Carl was run out of Vegas by the local authorities who vowed to charge him with the murder of Janos Skorzeny if he should ever return. Though not explicitly stated in The Night Strangler, the ending of the second film does seem to imply that the same sort of situation exists in Seattle, Washington regarding the demise of Dr. Richard Malcolm.

Equipment:

  • Camera [BODY 02, Recall: 08, Flash: 05, R#: 02. The camera’s Recall Power is visual in nature only. Use the camera’s APs of Recall as the AV/EV of any Perception Checks that are made to determine if a particular subtle detail was captured on film. The camera is considered to have an Ammo rating of 12 (representing 12 exposures on one roll of film) for its Recall Power ; the camera’s Flash Power represents its electronic flash ; the camera’s Flash Power has a Range of 1 AP (20 feet)].
  • Mini Tape Recorder [BODY 02, Recall: 08, R#: 03. The tape recorder’s Recall Power is auditory in nature only. Use the recorder’s APs of Recall as the AV/EV of any Perception Checks that are made to determine if a particular subtle detail was captured on tape. The tape cassettes used in the recorder can record for 60 minutes (10 APs), 30 minutes (9 APs) to a side].
  • “THE YELLOW SUBMARINE” [STR 04 BODY 06, Running: 06, Radio Communications: 07, R#: 02. ”The Yellow Submarine” is Kolchak’s Mustang convertible. The Radio Communications Power represents a Police radio scanner Kolchak has mounted under the dashboard. Limitation: Radio Communications is receive only].

By Vincent Bartilucci.

Source of Character: The Kolchak Papers by Kenneth Rice, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler TV movies, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series.

Helper(s): Night Stalking: A 20th Anniversary Kolchak Companion and The Night Stalker Companion: A 25th Anniversary Tribute both by Mark Dawidziak ; Sébastien Andrivet, John Colagioia.

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