With 16 days to go, the Delta Green Kickstarter has skyrocketed to a sanity-shattering $170,000 (she says, betting they get ~$1100 of backing before this posts tomorrow morning). Since the game came out a good 20+ years ago, it’s been the go-to for what I might call “dark action mythos” (is “dark mythos” redundant?). It was my introduction to Cthulhu gaming, so I was very excited to see the Kickstarter.
This entirely rewritten version will be familiar to any Call of Cthulhu player, but it’s a standalone ruleset designed for the game, not a direct hack of Call of Cthulhu. The Kickstarter will have two entire core games. The familiar d100 Delta Green from ArcDream and a GUMSHOE, 1960s-focused Fall of Delta Green from Pelgrane Press. As the Illuminerdy’s Mythos Correspondent, I’ve done interviews with designers of both books. First up is the classic Delta Green. Its Kickstarter levels cover everything from the basic Agent Handbook PDF to a full set of scenarios, settings, and the larger Case Officer’s Handbook. The best part? Whichever core game you back, you can add on PDFs from the other game or anything in the Add on Rewards Menu. If you only back for $1, you can choose whatever you want off that menu for fulfillment.
Like many companies, ArcDream has made the excellent decision to open up rules beforehand so you can get an idea of what the game looks like. Check out both the core rules manuscript (v.4 beta) and the quickstart with playable characters and a brief scenario. After checking these out, I asked writer/editor Shane Ivey (SI) and writer Greg Stolze (GS) a few questions.
Ruth: Call of Cthulhu has gone through two editions since 1st ed Delta Green came out in 1994. The DG 1st ed describes itself as “a sourcebook for modern-day Call of Cthulhu roleplaying,” but the current KS describes its break-away from the current CoC. What would you consider the essential elements of this edition of Delta Green, the core reasons someone would play it vs. cook up a modern CoC scenario?
SI: As much as we love Call of Cthulhu — and it’s the favorite game of every member of the Delta Green team — there are some important differences in tone and style between Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green.
Compared to Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition, Delta Green’s rules are streamlined to make any situation fast and easy to resolve.
Compared to Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, Delta Green has skewed away from pulp and toward unforgiving horror.
In Delta Green, investigative scenes are often diceless, so you don’t run into the inevitable trouble of the GM calling for a roll to find a piece of information and then having to improvise when the roll fails. Dice in Delta Green represent unpredictable situations, so they are reserved for dealing with unpredictable characters and trying to survive a crisis.
And action scenes in Delta Green are suspenseful and brutal. Whether you’re running for your life or standing to fight, it’s over fast. That keeps those moments breathless and scary, and it lets you get to the parts that we think are more interesting: the aftermath. The repercussions. The prices you pay when you go looking for terror.
Those consequences come up in Sanity, which is familiar to any Call of Cthulhu player, and in Bonds, which are a new part of Delta Green. Bonds are relationships that can keep you sane, but they deteriorate if you lean on them without giving anything back. With Bonds we explore not just your personal well-being but what your actions do to the human world around you.
GS: Mechanically, it’s very similar. It’s a variant on BRP with a bit more emphasis on (1) personal psychological and emotional degradation and (2) weapons of warfare, as is in keeping with Delta Green’s themes and focus. I think the reason you’d use this rather than cook up your own scenario is that the scenarios for DG are made by experienced professionals and you, maybe, don’t have the time for it. This isn’t meant to sound snooty about RPG home cooking, by the way. I believe that a scenario built with your characters in mind can be uniquely gripping. But someone who wants to run a game and doesn’t have lots of free hours to prep it may want to just grab something, and these scenarios have the benefit of decades of experience behind their design.
The other difference is that it gives a strong, plausible rationale for why investigators with the abilities required to confront these mysteries keep finding them. That framework, in turn, gives you a way to keep having adventures. Continuity can really deepen a player’s connection to a character, as can suspension of disbelief. It’s a lot easier to believe that a character is encountering all this weird stuff because experts are watching for it and sending her, than it is to accept that she just keeps stumbling into it.
Ruth: What games that have been published since the 1st edition have influenced your re-visioning of Delta Green? Have there been any large influences or have the adaptations primarily derived from reflection and retooling as you developed adventures and supplemental material?
SI: Pelgrane Press’s Gumshoe games Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents, absolutely. It’s no coincidence that we brought Ken Hite onto our team, and we aim to put Robin Laws to work for us soon. Those games did a fantastic job teaching GMs to focus on the goal of the game: to lure the players to horror. The way we approach using skills outside combat and pursuits isn’t exactly like Robin’s approach to clues in Gumshoe, but it was a straight-up inspiration.
And Unknown Armies, of course. You’ll notice Greg Stolze here, too. He and John Scott Tynes (also from Delta Green) did a fantastic job breaking mental trauma down into discrete types with different effects on characters. That insight is a key part of Delta Green’s Sanity rules.
GS: I can only speak for myself, but I think the progress of history and society changed this Delta Green more than (say) the release of Exalted or something. Again, the mechanics aren’t a major departure from BRP. Delta Green is different because when it originally came out, the idea of a government agency spying on every phone call everyone made sounded like science fiction. Now it’s a serious concern. The idea that American troops might engage in torture? Well, sure, a few rogue elements maybe, but torture as a policy that was handed down with guidelines, something where millions were spent determining the right way to do it? That sounded sort of paranoid in the 1990s. Now, unfortunately, it’s just the world.
Ruth: Will the Case Officer’s Handbook contain updated information on Majestic-12, The Fate, and other classic big bads of the world of Delta Green? What about new ones, will they be in the Handbook or added via tiers (I see “The Children of Atlach-Nacha,” for example, but am unsure if it’s a parallel group)?
SI: Some of those feature prominently in the Case Officer’s Handbook. Others are only sidebars explaining why they’re past-tense. Majestic-12 is still around, but it and Delta Green have been warped and changed by their contact with each other. These days the scary Men in Black with orders to torture and kill aren’t the enemy. They’re you. What do you do?
Ruth: Pelgrane’s going to be doing a lot in the 60s with Fall of Delta Green. Do you intend to keep your focus primarily contemporary or will you be going back to Delta Green’s greatest hits/worst moments as an “official” organization?
SI: Right now we’re keeping our attention mostly on the current day. There’s a lot to explore.
But we want to do a Delta Green RPG dedicated to World War II as soon as we can. It’s been in development for a long time and we really look forward to finishing it.
Ruth: Lots of us have played or at least heard of Delta Green. But for those who’ve never played, what’s your brief pitch for new players–especially those who haven’t played Call of Cthulhu either?
GS: Delta Green is a serious, horrifying game that puts characters in very bleak situations and demands that they find the least-awful solution.
SI: Delta Green is about competent, brave men and women investigating terrible supernatural threats, saving others from them, and paying the price.
Want a Hollywood pitch? True Detective meets Breaking Bad, The Americans, and the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s suspenseful, creepy, scary, and bleak. Around the table, of course, it’s often blackly funny because of all that. But every Delta Green game is a horror story from beginning to end.
Check out the Delta Green Kickstarter and pre-release rules from the beta playtest and the quickstart with starter characters. Be sure to keep an eye on it as it rockets upward like a nuke released by…well, honestly, by agents who rolled a 99 when aiming for Mi-Go.