Categorized | Reviews, RPGs

Call of Cthulhu: Delta Green RPG Review

Posted on August 13, 2012 by Megan

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    Many years ago, in a scene that came straight out of these pages, a car drew up outside my house and the driver handed me a copy of this book before whizzing off again! Unfortunately, it was a loan, but the release of a PDF version gives me the urge and wherewithal to sit down and review it.

    It opens with a facsimile letter, the rant of an aging veteran steeped in disgust at the modern world and in the urban myths of conspiracy theories about Roswell aliens and military-industrial complexes… or is it a clear-headed look at what many do not, cannot see? This is followed by the Introduction, blending the real reasons for general public mistrust of government seamlessly into the alternate reality of Call of Cthulhu where the Cthulhu Mythos is all too terribly real and ready to drive those who investigate it insane. This book brings the whole Mythos bang up to date, bringing forth a group, Delta Green, dedicated to combating it wherever it dares raise a slimy tentacle, keeping the world, unknowingly, safe one day at a time.

    Chapter 1: The Big Picture continues in similar vein, beginning with a discussion of the rationale behind the work: that the original Call of Cthulhu rules never provided for a real reason why anyone should risk life and sanity combating an evil that, apart from the odd shady cultist, didn’t really impact that much on the world as a whole. Moreover, as private citizens, they often had as much opposition from the forces of law and order as from transdimensional beings with lots of tentacles. The final motivator was to provide a solid contemporary setting for those who found the 1920s just too remote and out-of-date. Here, then, is a contemporary setting with characters as government agents involved in a conspiracy to protect the world from a lot more than bank robbers, serial killers and terrorists. The first section rounds out with an overview of the rest of the book and some wise advice for Keepers (GMs) contemplating running a Delta Green game.

    Next comes The Mythos in the 1990s, looking at how the Mythos itself has evolved and adapted to fit into modern times. People are less scared of monsters but they are scared of serial killers and terrorists. Even more, the seeds of destruction are sown not by creatures from outside but by humankind’s own behaviour. This continues with a series of notes about how many of the groups and creatures familiar to 1920s investigators have modified their modes of operation over the decades.

    As the Mi-Go feature largely within the world view as presented by Delta Green, the next section is devoted to The Fungi from Yuggoth. First and foremost, remember that they are ALIEN. They don’t think like us, their motivations are incomprehensible… and yet the Keeper needs to get his head around them. Various thoughts and notes are provided here to give said poor Keeper support in portraying the Mi-Go and their machinations effectively. Their story of more intense interaction with humanity begins at Roswell…

    Next the development of US federal agencies is charted in the section Big Brother From Then Til Now, and presents an interesting rationale for the proliferation of agencies: none was to be permitted too much power, too wide a scope. Much of what is presented here is real-world history, if somewhat idiosyncratic in scope, and is certainly sufficient to enable even non-American gamers to navigate their way through the ensuing ‘alphabet soup’ of US federal agencies with interests both domestic and international that may crop up during the course of the game. There’s even a comprehensive timeline to put everything in place.

    Now that the scene has been set Chapter 2: Delta Green looks at the organisation that is central to this game. The origins of Delta Green date back to a 1928 raid on Innsmouth, and from there weaves through real-world agency organisational history to its present role, with a strong detour through the realms of conspiracy theories, especially those involving parapsychological research, the supernatural and the occult – and of course including Roswell. This encounter brought about a divergence, with Majestic-12 more interested in aliens and Delta Green chasing after more terrestrial issues… or were they? Anyhow, following various debacles, Delta Green was disbanded, at least officially, in 1970. But it lingered on as a more informal body of like-minded individuals within governmental agencies, still working to counter the Mythos threat by destroying utterly anything that it encountered. Remember the embittered veteran whose letter opened this book? A leader of this informal version of Delta Green, his death at the hands of Majestic 12 assassins led others to realise that a more organised structure would be beneficial so in 1994, Delta Green was reborn, still an unofficial conspiracy but now an organised one within the ranks of legitimate federal agents spread across the whole gamut of government service. A detailed timeline puts all this into perspective, and the chapter rounds off with extensive notes on key players within the organisation. Each is provided with full game stats, so may appear as necessary within your adventures.

    Next, Chapter 3: Majestic-12 looks at the main rival to Delta Green. The story begins with the arrival of alien beings at Roswell, and continues relating what is ‘known’ by the authorities… and suspected by conspiracy theorists the world over. Majestic-12 was formed to study these alien arrivals and their technology, as well as anything else UFO-related, working with the intention of harnessing what they learned to the good of mankind (or at least, that of the United States). Many of their researchers went mad, killed themselves or just vanished. Much of this early ‘history’ is standard conspiracy theory fare, but around 1980 it moves into new realms to fit game needs. Current knowledge, structure and personalities are discussed, to be revealed as thought necessary should characters become interested or involved (not necessarily voluntarily) with the organisation. And then comes the ‘truth’ – what, within the context of the game, is really going on, definitely material for the Keeper’s eyes only, then the chapter ends with yet another timeline, this of Majectic-12’s activities and discoveries, and full details of key players in the organisation with full game stats.

    Another organisation follows in Chapter 4: Karotechia. This group perpetuates the Nazi fascination with the occult and is based in South America, working to establish the Fourth Reich. From its formation in 1939, the organisation is deeply embedded in Nazi ideology, and maintains links with white supremacists and other unwholesome groups. They also believe that they are in communication with the immortal soul of Adolf Hitler, for which an alternative explanation is provided for the Keeper’s use. There are notes (and stats) for leading members, the intention being that the Karotechia provide a lesser opposition to Delta Green operatives, a suitable challenge for characters to cut their teeth on.

    Next up, Chapter 5: Saucer Watch discusses a UFO research organisation, a well-funded and sceptical group which may prove useful to characters investigating this area of the paranormal. Several of their headline investigations are detailed, along with Keeper’s notes about what was really going on and which Mythos entities were responsible. Characters not seeking law enforcement or other Federal careers could conceivibly be members of Saucer Watch instead of Delta Green, although it is also likely that at some point in the campaign Majestic-12 might decide that they were just too much of a nusiance and put them out of business with extreme prejudice.

    This is followed by Chapter 6: The Fate, yet another group with which characters might interact. They are unusual in that they do know about the Mythos but their reaction is an interesting one: if mankind is doomed, they intend to grab as much power as they can and enjoy it while they may! Led by an exceptional sorcerer they have links to organised crime and the music industry, and may be helpful or otherwise to the characters.

    Then come a series of Appendices, which actually take up about half the book! They start with an extensive bibliography for those Keepers who want to devle even further into ‘real’ comspiracy theories to add more flavour and depth into their games, as well as more credible recent history of real-world organisations and events. Then there’s a glossary of slang and other terminology that could prove useful. To add another layer of realism, there’s extensive detail on security classifications, complete with guidelines on producing realistic handouts that look like they came from the CIA or FBI… When things That Should Not Be are encountered, a section on Mythos-related manuscripts, including their game effects, should provide plenty of material. There are even some rather nice facsimile documents you could use as handouts.

    Next comes a section on adventures. Plenty of ideas have probably been spawned by what you have already read, but an entire introductory adventure is provided to get you going. It starts with the characters not being members of Delta Green, depending on their actions this status may well change. It’s a cracking little adventure that ought to get the characters, ideally ordinary FBI agents, thinking in wholly new ways. More adventures follow, including a whole mini-campaign, to keep the ball rolling, designed to be interleaved with events of your own devising. Even if you just use these, there is plenty to keep your agents firmly in the middle of trouble.

    Then there is a section about character creation. Based on the core Call of Cthulhu rules with assorted modifications to create federal agents who are at least potential – if not already – Delta Green operatives, they provide all you need to know to direct your players through the process. It also includes creating wider Delta Green ‘cells’ of operatives; and is followed by even more detail on federal agencies, to provide background and verisimiltude for your characters. (There’s a note in the PDF that some of this has changed in the wake of the ‘9/11’ terrorist attacks, but if you wish to accommodate such detail you will need to do your own research into the likes of the Department of Homeland Security!) Occupation templates and even sample characters are included for a whole alphabet soup of agencies, branches of the armed forces, and other organisations. There are also new skills, reflecting the contemporary setting… and some modern firearms, as they are sure to be required upon occasion. The book ends with a comprehensive index and a character sheet customised for this setting.

    This work is a skilful blend of popular conspiracy theory and Mythos lore, providing a meaningful way of bringing Call of Cthulhu into the modern world without just continuing the standard activities of 1920s investigators. The provided adventures are exciting, sweeping your characters straight into the thick of things. Overall, I’m very glad its found its way back into my hands!

    Review by Megan Robertson

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