Thursday, August 9, 2012

Delta Green: Countdown Review

In honor of Pagan Publishing & Arc Dream Publishing's decision to start making Pagan's wonderful back catalog available on PDF via RPG Now, starting with the releases of Delta Green and Delta Green: Countdown, I thought it was high time I give a review of Delta Green: Countdown.

For those of you looking for a review of Delta Green's main sourcebook, here's a link to my review.

Delta Green's first edition was released in 1996.  A subsequent revision, that mainly added support for d20 Call of Cthulhu was released in 2006, and can still be found.

Delta Green: Countdown has something of a star-crossed history.  While the Delta Green sourcebook was clearly mining from the same UFO conspiracy/paranoid about secret government conspiracy 1990's aesthetic as the TV series X-Files, and RPG settings like Conspiracy X, and TSR/WotC's Dark Matter setting (first released for Alternity, then revised for d20 Modern), Delta Green: Countdown (to be henceforward abbreviated only as Countdown in the review) was released in 1999, and was seeking to address two main issues:  updating the setting for the turn of the millenium; and addressing the parochial nature of Delta Green by providing information about other national government efforts to fight the losing battle against the Great Old Ones.

By and large, it did a decent job of addressing the latter concern, and might have done well at addressing the former if it wasn't for a tiny, forgettable event that took place on September 11, 2001.  Unlike what cynical politicians were spouting to get reelected in the early part of the last decade, for Delta Green, it's pretty certain that September 11 would have changed everything.  And so, Pagan Publishing was faced with a book for the new millenium that didn't even really mirror the new millenium for more than about the first 9 months.  Oops.

Still, Delta Green: Countdown did some good things, and frankly, though still rooted in the 1990's, has enough going for it to be worth picking up.  Like the original Delta Green book, it was originally released in hardcover, with a subsequent rerelease in softcover.  Unlike Delta Green, Countdown hasn't been updated much since 1999, and until earlier this week, was by far the hardest (and most expensive) Delta Green sourcebook to track down.

Nothing illustrates this point better than my own laying down $105 to pick up a copy of Countdown about 18 months ago off of Ebay, and feeling fortunate in doing so (I'd lost in bidding on an earlier copy that ran up to almost $150 about a month earlier.

Delta Green: Countdown
Copyright: 1999 Pagan Publishing
Page Count 426 (about 90 more pages than Delta Green)
Authors: Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, and John Tynes

This book is a monster.  Even the paperback, in terms of sheer size, exceeds every other RPG in page count in my collection, with the exception of Pathfinder's core book.  But what's inside?  Why should I part with $40 or $50 to order a Print On Demand copy (or $20 for a PDF) from RPGNow?

Prologue (Of Sorts?)

Just as the main Delta Green book starts off with the last email transmission of Reginald Fairfield, head of Delta Green both in its last days as a legitimate government agency, and after as an illegal conspiracy, just moments before his heroic death at the hands of a Majestic 12 death squad, Countdown starts off with a small article in the form of something that might be printed in a London tabloid, before continuing with copies of pages of report of a joint operation between Delta Green and PISCES (Britain's legitimate equivalent to the still illegal Delta Green) that goes horribly wrong, ending in the killing of several FBI agents in front of the US Embassy in London by PISCES.  It sets the grim tone for what is to follow appropriately, and is a brilliant lead in (after a brief introduction) to the first chapter, about PISCES.

Chapter I: PISCES

PISCES is a very different agency than Delta Green.  Like Delta Green, PISCES got its start in the post-World War I expansion of UK intelligence services.  While Delta Green origins were rooted in the 1928 raid on Innsmouth, PISCES grew out of its own encounters with Mythos entities around the same time.  Unlike Delta Green, PISCES has not been disbanded, or forced to go underground.  It is still a legitimate (albeit not well known) arm of the British intelligence apparatus.

But PISCES has problems of its own.  It got a little too close to the creatures it was studying, particularly a new beast called the Shan, and ultimately, has been infiltrated, a fact that the broader British government is not aware of.  The chapter describes the history of PISCES from its early successes to its present role as a Trojan Horse within the British government for certain Mythos entities that have literally taken control, in the fashion of parasites, to its all still too human appearing agents.

It's chilling, it feels real, like everything else about Delta Green there's enough detail and adventure hooks to run a lifetime of campaigns out of, and it would feel like a very different game than being agents of Delta Green.

It also would provide an excellent opportunity for a group of FBI agents liaising with the British government, and not knowing who they can trust.

Chapter II: GRU-SV8

It should come as no surprise that the second European nation to get the Delta Green treatment in Countdown is that of Russia.  GRU-SV8, an arm of the GRU (the Red Army's intelligence organization) is that agency.  It arose out of the Russian Civil War, grew during the Soviet Union, and like so many of the Russian government's organizations has declined since the USSR dissolved.

GRU-SV8, like PISCES is still a legitimate organization of the Russian government, but unlike PISCES, suffers from budget and manpower shortfalls.

It's a shorter chapter, but still does a good job of detailing the history of the organization, its current struggles, and ways it might be used in a Delta Green game, primarily as a possible ally to Delta Green.

Chapter III: The Skoptsi

Just as Delta Green gave the GM new organizations to menace Delta Green with (Majestic 12, The Karotechia, and FATE), the same goes for Countdown.  The first of these, the Skoptsi, which originated as a cult of Shub Niggurath in the Caucasus Mountains (making that joint Delta Green & GRU-SVG mission) more plausible, they have since gone global, arriving in the US in the early 1920's, where the cult has infiltrated the US government, including most notably, the CIA.

While still rooted within the borders of the old Russian Empire, posing a foil to GRU-SV8 in particular.  As usual, the chapter is well detailed, with plenty of hooks, and would be an interesting foil for Delta Green.

Chapter IV: The OUTLOOK Group

So what happens when a world leading biotech firm becomes a major supplier to Majestic 12 (and all the evil that entails?) and by extension its sponsors, the Mi-Go (in the guise of the Grays?).  You get the OUTLOOK Group.  The OUTLOOK Group becomes the Majestic 12 way to "better living through chemistry" creating new poisons, toxins, and other biological and chemical weapons.  The organization tests its weapons on live human subjects, altering and ultimately killing them in horrific ways, all in providing Majestic 12's "wet works" squads with more effective, less detectable ways to kill.

It's a chilling organization that really feeds into the government paranoia angle of Delta Green as a setting, and provides the players with just one more reason to hate Majestic 12.

Chapter V: Phenomen-X

Take a little bit of E!, Inside Edition, the Weekly World News, Ghost Hunters, and of course, a liberal helping of Lovecraft, throw them in the blender, and what do you get?  Phenomen-X.

Phenomen-X is a syndicated, weekly television show, that pursues all sorts of matters, including much of the same territory covered by Ghost Hunters (and with equal authenticity), but also covers government conspiracies, including problems that would normally attract Delta Green's intention.  Their main role in such operations would be to get in the way of a Delta Green invetigation, and their main threat would be to expose the Delta Green conspiracy.

Ironically, Majestic 12 and Delta Green have a history of manipulating Phenomen-X, albeit with very different end goals in mind.  For Majestic 12, they represent a way to hinder and possibly expose Delta Green operations.  For Delta Green, stretched tight on resources, they often give Phenomen-X anonymous tips to check out an area Delta Green is considering investigating to see if it is indeed worthy of Delta Green's attention.

Chapter VI: Tiger Transit

So what happens when you take a Vietnam-era, covertly CIA-operated airline (like its real-life counterpart, Air America), replace the garden variety drug smuggler operators with cults based on the Great Old Ones, and make it fully owned and operated by the Tcho-Tcho?  You get Tiger Transit, the official civilian airlines of horrors beyond time and space.

Very much the fodder of 1980's & 90's American films (and numerous conspiracy theories about the CIA), Tiger Transit has its fingers in organized crime, and everything else in the Mythos.  One can imagine a million uses for Tiger Transit in a game, ranging as a red herring, or the vital cog in a worldwide conspiracy.

Chapter VII: The D Stacks

Buried deep in the stacks of the American Museum of Natural History, besides the plot of a couple of Ben Stiller movies, lies one of the largest collections of Mythos knowledge and artifacts outside of Miskatonic University (and probably more, since Miskatonic has been raided of many of its best treasures).  This museum within a museum is operated by Dr. Jensen Wu, and is covertly known, by the few that know it exists at all, as the D Stacks.  This chapter details the artifacts and knowledge within the D Stacks, and how it could be useful in a Delta Green game.

Chapter VIII: The Keepers of the Faith

From the 17th Century, when New York City was a simple Dutch trading post called New Amsterdam, to the present day, a cult of ghouls has existed in warrens deep beneath the streets of America's largest city, founded by a heretical religious order.  Eschewing visibility in the name of safety, they occasionally surface to kill as well as rob graves.  If you ever wanted a different take on ghouls in Call of Cthulhu, this is the chapter for you.

Chapter IX: The Hastur Mythos

If there's any single chapter that should convince you to buy a sourcebook, this chapter should convince you to buy Delta Green: Countdown.  The King in Yellow, Carcosa, and Hastur all predate Lovecraft, but he liked them so much he incorporated into some of his stories.  And then August Derlath, a contemporary of Lovecraft, took Lovecraft's (and Robert Chambers's) toys out to play with and broke some of them in his own stories.

In The Hastur Mythos, Dennis Detwiller does a superb job of turning the various stories of the Hastur Mythos, turns them into a more coherent whole (mostly by leaving some of the Derlath stuff in the historical dustbin), and makes it an ideal playground for both Delta Green, and I might add, regular Call of Cthulhu gaming.  It's that good.


As with Delta Green, nearly half of Countdown is actually contained in Appendices.  Therefore, it seems only reasonable to detail them.

Appendix A: Psychic Powers.

Yeah, Countdown goes there.  Psionics, wrecker of many a D&D campaign dating back to when Forgotten Realms was a place where Ed Greenwood ran his own home game, finally enter Call of Cthulhu, sort of.

The author, John Crowe III, takes pains to point out that they fit most closely with the PISCES chapter earlier in the book, and should, for game balance reasons, be the province of NPCs.  Still, there here, if you want them.  And in my games, that's right where they'll stay.  Psionics (psychic powers in Delta Green) seem incredibly out of place in a Call of Cthulhu game, and the thought of putting them in the hands of PCs seems a tad self-defeating.  Still, as I said, there here if you want them, so enjoy watching the players turn your two session investigation game into a ten seconds worth of Precognition as you collapse in a quivering mass.

Appendix B: From the Files of Professor Emerson

A series of research reports written by a Professor Grant Emerson, these are intended to read like the end lab reports from a number of locations.  Avoid reading these if you're a player, as they will wreck the secrets behind not only scenarios in Delta Green, but also Countdown.  Still, they're well written, and could find their way into players hands in a long campaign, preferably only after the players have finished the appropriate scenario.

Appendix C: New Skills:

This brief chapter (one page) introduces three new skills to Call of Cthulhu, Signals, Survival, and Tradecraft.

Appendix D: Adventures

Here's the heart of the thing.  Delta Green is first and foremost a setting for adventures (in fact, the first time the words Delta Green were used in print was in the form of the classic scenario Convergence).  I'll attempt to keep these descriptions spoiler-free, but if you expect to play in any of these, may I suggest skipping down to Appendix E below.  Countdown follows the Delta Green model of two adventures and a short campaign.

I. A Victim of the Art

The first adventure, I've not had a chance to run this, but it looks as good as anything that made its way into Delta Green.  Delta Green is called into investigate a series of bizarre murders on Long Island.  As the scenario describes it, the killer isn't human, but the perpetrator is. 

II. Night Floors

Again set in New York, this scenario takes place in the floors of a high-rise apartment in Manhattan.  This time, the scenario is tied around what appears to be a missing persons case with possible occult connections.  Needless to say, Delta Green gets the call.

III. Dead Letter

This one looks like a pulpy one (though it can be just as dangerous as any Call of Cthulhu scenario).  Start with aging Nazi Sorcerors in South America, mix in a lot of other bizarre players (including a radical environmentalist, and you have the makings of a great campaign.

Appendix E: International Federal Agencies

Effectively, this does for countries across the globe what Delta Green did for Federal Agencies in the United States.  Need to pull an SAS commando into an investigation of Byakhee activity on the Isle of Man?  Appendix E will let you do that.  This makes for a terrific resource for both Delta Green, and indeed Modern Call of Cthulhu games outside of Delta Green.

Summary and Rating:

While some of the information is dated, the heart of this book is still a winner.  Making the needed changes to update it to 2012 is not difficult, and some of the stuff here, like the Hastur Mythos chapter, is essentially timeless.

I can't recommend this one more strongly.

4.5 out of 5 stars, marked down only for it still being rooted in a pre-9/11 world.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What Have You Been Doing Lately?

Last Non-RPG Book Read...

The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry

As I've said before, I've been on a Steve Berry kick recently, as I've been slowly picking the books up on Kindle for the iPad.  Templar Legacy is the first of a series of novels featuring Cotton Malone.  Berry's first three novels and latest novel all had different protagonists, but the middle seven contained Cotton Malone.

The Templar Legacy scratches a couple of itches.  First, I'm a big fan of political conspiracies, and oddly, religious conspiracies, and the Templars and other odd medieval knightly orders have been fodder for some of my games for years.  As a novel, it came out a few years ago at the height of the Dan Brown craze, although Berry is a better writer than Brown.  It's a good read, if not quite as gripping as some of Berry's later stuff, and a good introduction to the Malone character.

Last Music Listened To...

Bedsitter Images-Al Stewart.  Some old Al Stewart, oddly enough, way back in his electric folk period from the late 1960s, well before anybody in America had even heard of him.

Last Move Watched...

I got nothing.  Haven't watched a lot of movies recently, which leads to...

Last TV Watched...
I've been studiously avoiding the Olympics, for the most part.  We did the Buffy Season 5, Fringe Season 1, Heroes Season 2, Supernatural Season 5 cycle last Sunday night after the Star Wars game, so I'm going to go with that.

Last RPG Books Purchased/Read...

I recently purchased Cthulhu by Gaslight (3rd Edition), Cthulhu Dark Ages, and Chronicles of Future Earth.

 Cthulhu by Gaslight: This is the new version, which came out earlier this year.  I'd acquired the previous, 1988 Second Edition from Chaosium about a year ago in PDF, much to my regret, and so I was curious to see what the new edition would be like.  I have to say, after an initial skim that I'm very impressed with it.  They've tweaked character generation in a couple of good ways that may make it into all of my Call of Cthulhu games from now on, the book is written with a lot more in the way of adventure hooks, and it's a much more beautiful book than the old edition.  As soon as I get done reading it, I'll post a review.

Cthulhu Dark Ages: This one came out a few years ago and was Chaosium's first official setting for Call of Cthulhu in the pre-gunpowder era.  I haven't really gone through it yet, but it seems rather impressive upon first glance.  I love the concept of blending Cthulhu into a much grimmer time, when the separation of Church and State was what happened when the Pope excommunicated Kings and Queens, and feudalism was the political order of the day and could see some interesting blending of the Mythos with the dogma of Medieval era Roman Catholicm and Eastern Orthodoxy.  I can also see it being a useful item for running straight-up Medieval settings with BRP.

Chronicles of Future Earth: This one is for Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying.  It's first official setting published after the release of 2008's Basic Roleplaying 4th Edition Core Rulebook, it describes itself as "Science-Fantasy Roleplaying in Earth's Far Future".  It looks like an odd mix of a post-apocalyptic setting (set thousands of years after the event occurred), and contains a liberal mix of fantasy elements.  I'm not sure I'd ever run it as a setting whole cloth (I rarely run published settings as is these days), but I can definitely see some elements, particularly things like spells, magic items, weird tech, character ideas, etc. that I might steal for other BRP games.  Since these are precisely the things I think BRP's core rulebook could have used more of, I consider it a worthy purchase.

Setting Stuff I'm Currently Working On...

Most of my prep time in the last two weeks has gone to work on the two games I'm running for the family, Star Wars Saga Edition: Anakin Takes a Bullet and BRP: Emberverse.

I'm also working on a Call of Cthulhu one shot.  Without giving away too many details, here's a snapshot:

The End: With the upcoming end of the Mayan Calendar coming upon us, I felt a horror game would be in order, and what better way to end the world than to hand it over as a plaything to the Elder Gods.

Loosely based on an old Actual Play recording from Role Playing Public Radio entitled "Is It The End Of The World As We Know It?", I'll be setting it in Phoenix, December 2012, and adding a few fictionalized versions of controversial local politicians into the mix.  The players will be playing characters like the Mayor, Governor, Chief of Police, Commander of the Arizona National Guard, Maricopa County Sheriff, etc. trying to maintain control in a metropolitan area gone mad and stave off the end of the world.  They'll be dealing with riots, rebellions, breakdowns of city services, crazy cultists, and most dangerous of all, half-insane teams of normal Call of Cthulhu investigators firmly convinced that only they can save the city, etc.

It should be a lot of fun.

Star Wars Saga Edition, Anakin Takes A Bullet, Episode IV, Session 1 Writeup

The Story So Far...

System: Star Wars Saga Edition (modified d20)
Campaign: Anakin Takes a Bullet
Episode IV, The Great Unravelling
Session 1
Date Played: July 22, 2012
Date in Star Wars Timeline: Day 1, 977 RRE (Ruusan Reformation Era, 977 years after the reformation of the Republic subsequent to the Battle of Ruusan, which ended the last of the Sith Wars) or 23 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin)

The Great Unravelling represents something of an experiment for me as a GM.  At the end of Episode III, Betrayal On Kitos V, Kizme Naberre, a Naboo noblewoman, played by my wife, ran for and was elected to the Senate.  The other two characters, Draglo Fis, who is basically Han Solo if Han had been a Dug instead of human, and particularly Catherine Starkiller, a Miraluka Jedi Knight, didn't exactly seem to be great candidates as Senate aides, and so the original group of three characters has split in two.

The first group, centered around the Senator, consists of a Selkath Scout, Shako and a Gand Scoundrel, Fluulehn, along with the Senator.  The second group, centered around Draglo Fis and Catherine Starkiller (a Jedi and a Pilot/Fixer character), is rounded out by my wife's 1st Level Jedi, a padawan.  It was the first group that was the focus of the first session, and this first group is who the remainder of this writeup will be about.

Play began on Coruscant.  After briefly handing an assignment to the Jedi Group that shall be a object of future sessions, we dealt with business in the office of newly sworn in Senator Kizme Naberre, who had barely been sworn in before she dealt with another job applicant, and a bribery attempt.

The latter became a primary focus of the rest of the session, as the group began to investigate the mysterious woman who made the bribery attempt, hoping to find out more about who was behind it.

So far, they've got a voice sample, which is being run through security databases, and some holovid footage of the perpetrator on the way in and out of the building (she used a scrambling device to muddle up security holovid cameras inside the Senator's office, but failed to engage them outside the building).

In the next session, we'll see what they do with that.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Delta Green "Legal" PDFs on sale at RPG Now

Getting a hold of Delta Green books has been something of an ordeal in recent years.  Copies of the main Delta Green book, and Eyes Only can be found off of Arkham Bazaar (with rather egregious shipping).  If one looked hard enough, and was unscrupulous enough to swipe books off of P2P, one could find a perfect copy of Targets of Opportunity, the latest sourcebook, and truly awful scans of the main Delta Green sourcebook and Delta Green: Countdown.  But finding legal, reasonably priced hard or softcover of some of these books, particularly Countdown, has been well nigh impossible.

To put this in perspective, copies of the Hardcover 2007 (revised with d20 Stats for the ill-fated d20 Call of Cthulhu) version of Delta Green can be found new for $40 off of Arkham Bazaar.  However, Delta Green: Countdown, first published in 1999, has been a lot harder to find in recent much so that I paid $105 last year off of Ebay for a mint condition softcover.

As a member of the Delta Green mailing list, I was very excited to get home today and learn that the much promised deal by Pagan Publishing and Arc Dream Publishing to get the existing print only Delta Green books into PDF format is live.

You can now pick up the first two Delta Green sourcebooks (Delta Green, and Delta Green: Countdown) off of RPG Now.  They're apparently available in both PDF and Print On Demand.

Apparently work is afoot to get the rest of Pagan's back catalog, including the other two Delta Green Sourcebooks, Eyes Only and Targets of Opportunity, as well as some of their non-Delta Green Mythos offerings in the coming months available via PDF & POD shortly as well.  Having never picked up Targets of Opportunity, I look forward to picking up a copy when it comes out.

It's also worth noting that the various novels and short fiction collections set in the Delta Green setting can also be found via PDF off of RPGNow as well.

If you're into Call of Cthulhu, and are at all intrigued by the Delta Green setting (which I did a review of earlier this month), check it out.  You won't find a better deal, believe me.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Emberverse: The Story So Far

OK.  I'll admit it.  I'm a sucker from Post-Apocalyptic stories and adventures.  From my original reading of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend to seeing a young pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson traipsing around a weird post-apocalyptic future in A Boy and His Dog to more conventional fare like the Mad Max series, The Day After, Jericho, etc.  I've enjoyed a number of great post-apocalyptic stories and played or run a few post-apocalyptic games, including Gamma World, and most recently, my current favorite, Darwin's World for d20 Modern.

Still, in a day and age when there is no obvious threat of nuclear war (conservative paranoia about Iran aside), and there are far more pressing concerns on the environmental front, nuclear post-apocalyptic survival stories look about as dated today as Cold War spy thrillers. In a day and age where the Department of Agriculture reports that 88% of the US corn crop is basically being trashed by a drought...where whole Pacific islands in Micronesia are being abandoned because rising sea levels are causing ridiculous amounts of flooding, or in some cases have risen to the point that there simply is no fresh water available on the island, it seems more than likely that if mankind is going to engineer its own destruction, it will be through global warming by burning too many fossil fuels, not some cataclysmic nuclear exchange (although such a scenario as an endgame where the world's powers compete for ever shrinking pools of resources isn't completely out of the realm of possibility). Unfortunately, mass death by global warming isn't quite as sexy as a game with implausible man-sized insects, and mutated humans and other critters in a post-nuclear setting, so this particular scenario generally gets ignored by RPGs, except perhaps as a peripheral issue in some cyberpunk settings.

And then there's something like S M Stirling's Dies the Fire, which along with its companion Nantucket trilogy, takes the modern world and shakes it up like an 8 year old kid who got a hold of his older brother's ant farm.

The base premise of the Nantucket trilogy, and its spinoff Emberverse series (the first novel of which is Dies the Fire), is that on March 17, 1998 (St. Patrick's Day, as it were) the modern day Nantucket Island is transported back nearly 3000 years to the Bronze Age, and effectively swapped with the Bronze Age Nantucket Island, which is transported to 1998.

The Nantucket Trilogy sees a post-industrial island dropped back into the Bronze Age, and is a tale of the small island's survival in a world where it boasts advanced technology, but not much of an industrial base to sustain it...literally an island of the 20th Century regressing, but still 3000 years ahead in technical knowledge compared to the world around it.

Dies the Fire takes a look at our world, after the swap of Nantucket Island, and the resulting change of physical laws that alters the world.  Specifically, a handful of physical laws simply stop working.  Electrical systems no longer work, including electronics, power generation, batteries, and any devices dependent upon electricity.  Gunpowder, and other explosives don't work, effectively knocking weapon technology back to high medieval, pre-gunpowder days.  And finally, high gaseous pressure systems (compressed air, compressed fuel, etc.) cease to function.  Goodbye internal combustion, all but the earliest and least efficient of steam engines, etc.  The novel then follows  two groups of survivors trying to survive a treacherous first year, through the initial dieoffs, the emergence of warlords all in Central Oregon.

It's been my goal since reading the Emberverse series in particular to run it as a setting.  I struggled to find a setting to run it with until I got hooked on Chaosium's venerable Basic Roleplaying (BRP) system, which contained a combination of ease of use (unlike GURPS), and a grittiness that is missing from other generic systems like Savage Worlds or the various flavors of d20.  So over the past few months, I've been tweaking BRP to run Emberverse.

We finished our fourth session today.  I'll be posting a report of the first few sessions in the next few days, along with a writeup of today's session.  Until then, consider this a teaser.  Also, in future posts, I'll provide documents on what I changed or added to the system, and finally, some character designs and other goodies.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition: My Thoughts.

The Unspeakable Oath has a post up about the upcoming Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition.  It looks like, unlike 6th Edition, which basically took 5th Edition and relaid it out in a nearly unreadable font, that this will be a major rewrite.

I like a few of the proposed changes.  Removing Fast-Talk and adding Charm and Intimidate seems like a good idea.  CofC has cried out for the need for an Intimidate skill for a while.

I'm lukewarm on the characteristic changes, though I think the old Characteristic x Multiplier was hardly a difficult thing to get used to.

I really, really don't like the changes to Luck.  I personally loathe excess resource management in games.  Too wargamey for me most times.  If I want players to spend points out of a pool, I might as well go pick up Trail of Cthulhu.  This change is a tough sell, and likely would be the first thing I house ruled out.

The changes to the Idea roll sounds like a great idea.

Frankly, there's not enough information about Sanity for me to talk about, but I do like the sound of constantly tagging back to the same indefinite insanity you developed earlier.

Anyway, I'll probably pick up 7th Ed when it comes much I run it depends on what it looks like when Chaosium gets done with it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The What Have You Been Doing Lately Post

It's been a while since I did one of these, and I kind of like the moment in time feel of them.

Last (non-RPG) Book I've Read...

The Third Secret by Steve Berry.

Treading much the same ground as Dan Brown's terrible novel turned into a mediocre movie, Angels & Demons.  This one treads much the same ground.  In this case, the camerlengo is the hero, the Pope is murdered (and anticipates it), and the newly elected Pope pretty seems like he modeled his life after the Borgia Family.  It's a better read just because the characters involved in a lot of instances have conflicting agendas and loyalties.  Worth a read if you enjoyed either of Dan Brown's novels that tread the same territory, as I consider Berry to be a better writer.

This would make a great d20 Modern Blood & Relics game, if I ever found the time or the group.

Last Music Listened To...

Black Rain, Original Soundtrack, Hans Zimmer

I've been on a soundtracks kick again recently, and I've been collecting a lot of Hans Zimmer's early work.  While his later stuff is a lot more orchestral, and enters the same bombastic territory occupied by John Williams, a lot of his earlier stuff is more synth/light orchestra/chorale heavy, and trades the same ground as some of Vangelis's early stuff.  Most recently, I picked up a copy of the Black Rain soundtrack.  The movie was eh...but the soundtrack just screams cyberpunk to me...without being quite as familiar as the Blade Runner soundtrack, but treading some of the same ground.  It may wind up at the gaming table some day for a cyberpunk or neo-noir game.

Last Movie Watched...


Rewatched Inception a couple of days ago.  I tend to watch more TV series than movies these days.  I don't go to many movies and I tend to occasionally go on DVD/Blu Ray buying binges.  I'm about due for another one.  Anybody got any suggestions?  I'll certainly be picking up John Carter (I'm a Burroughs fan) and a few others.

Last Television Watched...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Heroes, Supernatural, Fringe, every Sunday night.

I don't have cable, and I don't have Netflix (though the later should be rectified soon), as I read a lot more than I watch, but the family and I got in a habit of watching television series on DVD a few years back on Sunday nights, starting with Firefly and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.  Since that time, we've worked our way through X-Files, seasons 1-9, and are currently working our way through Heroes, Buffy, Supernatural, and Fringe.

Supernatural is brilliant.  If you haven't been watching it, you're making a big mistake.  We're about halfway through Season 5, and loving it.

Buffy I saw bits of this series on the WB back in the day, but frankly I worked a lot of nights during its run, and I missed a lot more of it than I remembered.  It's been fun, though frankly, I thought the series may have jumped the shark in Season 4 a bit, and I'm hoping Season 5 (which we started just a few weeks ago) tries to restart some of the momentum.

Heroes we just finished Season 1, which was brilliant.  I understand the remaining three seasons represent a huge drop in quality.  But the complete series was $8 a season on a Black Friday special at Target last Christmas, and I'm figuring I'll get $24 of enjoyment out of the last three seasons at some point.

Fringe we just started with Season 1.  Looks like early X-Files with fewer supernatural terrors and more alien weirdness.  I understand it got better with later seasons, but so far, I could take it or leave it.

I'm also collecting True Blood and Game of Thrones as they come out.  Both television series are amazing.

Last RPG Book Purchased...

Physical Books:
Hollow Earth Expedition, Exile Game Studios
Wild Talents Essentials Edition, Arc Dream Publishing

d20 Deadlands Hell on Earth & d20 Deadlands Hell on Earth Horrors of the Weird West
Thrilling Hero Adventures (Hero System)

I'll talk about these in order.  Both were purchased from Darren from Imperial Outpost Games at Conflagration.

Hollow Earth Expedition (HEX) scratches my pulp itch.  For those who know me, pulp, horror, and noir are basically the main themes that run through my games.  Even when I run other systems, they wind up with noir or pulp elements, depending on the mood appropriate for the game.  Although I'm still learning this one, the Ubiquity System looks like it would fairly easy to run, and most of the obvious pulp archetypes can be created readily.

One of the things I like about HEX in particular is that unlike a lot of pulp RPG games and settings, its very tightly focused.  Most pulp games try to cover the gamut from boxing stories, to westerns, to car racing to space, to 1930's adventure yarns, and so on.  HEX's emphasis and inspiration, is based on things like Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar novels, and other novels using a Hollow Earth or Lost Island style adventures.  The setting is pretty tightly focused on that style of fiction, and doesn't try to be all things to all people.  If somebody's looking to dip their toes in the water with classic 1920-1940 style pulp gaming, you could do worse than HEX.

Wild Talents scratches my One Roll Engine itch.  I've come to admire A Dirty World and Nemesis, and the simplicity of One Roll Engine, so I picked this up for a song.  It's strictly the rules, but I'd probably roll my own as far as setting if and when I ran it anyway.  I mainly just picked it up ($9.99 sticker price, but I got a bit of a deal) to check out the mechanics.  One of these days I'll get around to picking up Reign as well...not enough money, too many games.

The d20 Deadlands stuff is a bit peculiar for me.  I love the Deadlands settings (including Lost Colony and Hell on Earth), not so fond of Deadlands system (or its successor, Savage Worlds, for that matter, which I know puts me in something of a minority).  Thought this might be fun in case I ever try to do a d20 version.  Besides, RPGNow was selling them for $5 apiece as part of their promotion for the recent release of the Savage Worlds compatible Hell on Earth Reloaded.  If nothing else, I've got some more creatures to throw in a Darwin's World game, so it's all good.

Thrilling Hero Adventures is more pulp.  Although I'm great at math, I don't run Hero System, as I prefer not to be that rules heavy these days, but this was a $10 volume, has a number of great pulp adventures, a lot more great pulp ideas, and heck, I'll convert some of it to d20 Modern Thrilling Tales or maybe even Hollow Earth Expedition one of these days.  I usually buy pregen adventures to steal ideas from, rather than run them whole cloth anyway.

What I'm working on currently...

I'm a bit of a gaming floozy.  Even when I've got campaigns running, I like to tinker around with campaign ideas for other genres.

As far as games I'm running, I'm running a Pathfinder game based on RPPR's New World Campaign.  It was originally written for 4E, but I'd rather rip my toenails out than play 4E, so I retrofitted it to Pathfinder.

For Basic Roleplaying (Chaosium's house system), I'm running my take on S M Stirling's Emberverse novel series.  The grittiness of BRP seemed to fit Dies the Fire rather nicely, and its an easy system to adapt to new settings and genres, and an even easier one to teach.

Stuff being worked on, but not run at the moment...

I'm working on another one shot for A Dirty World...going to be setting this during the Cold War, but still toying around with ideas.  No big rush, as con season is about over for Phoenix this year.

We're about to return to our Star Wars Saga Edition campaign, but I'll leave that for another post.  Needless to say I've been working on that.

I'm tinkering with adapting the first scenario from Thrilling Hero Adventures to d20 Modern Thrilling Tales for use as a one shot the next time the mood strikes me.

I'm also working on the beginnings of a cyberpunk setting.  Probably d20 Modern/Future, but I may try it with BRP...I'm not sure which direction I'll go.  It won't be run for a while yet.

I've also been asked to run a Supers game.  I'm actually thinking I may combine this with the Cyberpunk feel, and create sort of a Neo Postmodern/Iron Age in the near future sort of game.  Not sure yet.  At this point I'm just bouncing around ideas in my head, and haven't put pen to paper yet.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Anakin Takes A Bullet: The Story So Far

I'm back to work on the Star Wars Saga Edition game.  As I've said before, it's an alternate universe game entitled "Anakin Takes A Bullet."

The break in official Star Wars canon takes place during the podrace in Episode I.  During the race, there's a scene where Anakin's podracer is grazed by a bullet from a slugthrower shot by a Tusken Raider sniping the race course.  My assumption is that instead of striking his racer, it strikes Anakin in the skull, penetrating.  The combination of the gunshot wound, coupled with the blunt force trauma resulting from the subsequent crash kills him.

The net effect of this is that the A plot of the Star Wars timeline is effectively removed, thus allowing the player characters to become the A plot.  The Skywalker line is gone, so no Anakin, no Luke, no Leia.  The larger sweep of the galaxy is otherwise unaffected, but these deaths cause ripples in the timeline due to the absence of the Skywalkers (and the presence of the party).  The net effect is that the events of the Fall of the Republic seem to be playing out in the background, but there's just enough cognitive dissonance, and just enough new elements being introduced to keep the players just a bit uneasy.

The campaign itself has been episodic in nature, so far, three have been completed and resolved.  After a few months break where the group has been playing other games.  We're probably just a handful of weeks away from Episode 4's start.  Here's what the group has encountered so far:

Episode 1 dealt with the aftermath of Anakin's death and the situation on Tatooine (where Padme, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Obi-Wan Kenobi) are stranded after Watto wins the Naboo Royal Yacht in the podrace).  The Judicial Department reluctant dispatches another group to retrieve the stranded heroes, and see what can be salvaged of the situation in Naboo.  This group, naturally, is the PCs.

The three intrepid heroes are a human noble woman, part of Padme's Royal Handmaidens (and a distant cousin), a male Dug Scoundrel/Pilot who has an uncanny ability to find trouble, only to dig himself out, and a female Miraluka Jedi.

By the time the group reaches Tatooine, both Qui-Gon and Darth Maul are dead, as the lightsaber battle that punctuates Episode I's climax takes place on Tatooine.  Eventually, after a pitstop in Coruscant, where Chancellor Valorum's government has fallen based on his illegal use of the Jedi on Naboo, complicated by the stranding of the group on Tatooine.  In one of the first ripples, corpulent Twi'lek Senator Orn Free Taa pulls enough strings/hands outs enough bribes to become Chancellor.

Eventually the group makes its way to Naboo, where the heroes of the movie, in combination with the player characters, break the Trade Federation's hold on the planet, and Naboo celebrates its liberation.

Episode 2 advances the timeline a couple of years.  Several canonical things that happen in the timeline happen here.  Count Dooku resigns from the Jedi Order.  The Jedi Order begins to suffer a wave of missing Jedi.  Usually younger, recently promoted Jedi Knights, the Order is concerned enough to launch an investigation.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Chancellor Orn Free Taa, whose greed is exceeded only by his waistline, becomes mired in corruption charges, just like his predecessor.  Calls for his resignation, like a dim echo of those for Finis Valorum just a few years before, can now be heard.

On Naboo, the combination of the loss of the Royal Yacht, the heavy toll in property damage and civilian life taken by the longer occupation by the Trade Federation, and the sense that Naboo's Queen was guided by rather than leading events during the occupation lead to bold calls that Queen Amidala step down, including some voices on the Naboo Royal Council.  While Amidala holds on to her office for the time being, there is a sense that barring a change in the fortunes of the Queen, she will be stepping down at the end of her term.

The group is given the task of following up on the disappearance of one of the missing Jedi, a Jedi whose mission had been to recover a possible Jedi or Sith Holocron on Eriadu.  There, they meet a younger, but every bit as taciturn, Eriadu Lieutenant Governor Wilhuff Tarkin (the same Tarkin of Death Star fame), and look for clues to the whereabout of the missing Jedi.  They find no Jedi, but they do locate the Jedi's ride, a Modified YT-2000 Freighter piloted by a now dead Mon Calamari pilot.  After a violent encounter with a Dark Side Force Adept who has already lost an arm to what she describes as a Sith Lord, she leads them to believe the Jedi may have gone rogue, and locate clues that she may have moved on to Carlass, an outer rim system that is mostly unexplored outside of a small mining colony on the system's mainworld.

Travelling to Carlass, they still fail to locate the Jedi, but do run into a number of beasts that have been twisted by the Dark Side of the force in the form of a crypt of a minor, but previously forgotten Sith Lord.  There, the group battles their way through a variety of Sith Abominations, a Dark Side Spirit, and a pair of fiendish puzzles/traps (I'm fond of that sort of thing at times), before locating what turns out to be a relatively unimportant Sith holocron.

After a stop at Naboo where the group foils an assassination attempt on Padme Amidala's life by a group from the Nebula Front, the group returns to Coruscant, with a vaguely disconcerting feeling that at least one of the missing Jedi Knights has gone to the Dark Side, and a sense that even though they have a better idea what happened to the missing Jedi, and did retrieve the holocron, that there was something more that should have been done by somebody.

Episode III was aimed firmly at the Naboo noble in the party.  The timeline is advanced to roughly six years after Episode I.  On Coruscant, yet another treason trial on Nute Gunray fails to convict him, leaving it very likely that the Neimoidians will walk away consequence free from the illegal occupation of Naboo.  Chancellor Orn Free Taa resigned not long after the conclusion of Episode II, leading to Palpatine being voted in as the new Chancellor.  The political entity that would become the Confederacy of Independent Systems is launched by Count Dooku,  The Trade Federation joins the Confederacy soon after.

Also on Coruscant, a devastating act of terrorism in Westport leads to the destruction of numerous starships, and tens of thousands dead, including two Senators.  As a response, the Senate passes (and the Chancellor signs) the CEASES Act, which creates an exception to some existing civil liberties protections for persons branded by the Chancellor as suspected of committing acts of terrorism.  While some civil libertarians bemoan the loss of liberties, the public, reeling from the Westport bombing, and similar terrorist acts on other core worlds, by and large approves of the measure.

It is against this backdrop of civil strife that the group of player characters is called upon to travel to a seemingly insignificant mining colony in the Outer Rim, Kitos V, a world considering joining with the Confederacy, which happens to be the linchpin of an interlocking string of alliances that could take most of three sectors with it. 

The group travels to Kitos V to meet with the governing council.  They quickly learn that all five members of the council, are less than conventional personalities, with conflicting goals and agendas, and with nobody really acting as it would seem.

Throw in the first real Sith Lord the group has encountered, a group of mercenaries and bounty hunters intent on killing anybody who threatens Ragga's plans, and the group has to tread lightly, finding the pressure points of the various council members, politicking to get their vote, and in some instances confronting the violence of Ragga's thugs head on.  Ultimately, the group is successful in keeping Kitos V loyal to the Republic, but not without grave consequences to the world, and more than one council member.

One other incident has set the table for the fourth episode.  Padme Amidala was assassinated on Naboo.  One of the things the players have been made aware of from the beginning is that events outside of their control will happen outside of their sphere of influence.  This was one such time where this came true.  Simply put, I removed Padme to put the Naboo noble that is a member of the party in a position of influence in Naboo politics.  She has been elected Senator, and the party has effectively been split into two groups...a Jedi focused one that will be investigating rumors of embezzlement from the Republic government offworld, and a politically focused group centered around her as Senator on Coruscant, and dealing with the corrupt nature of politics in the late Republic.

In future posts, I'll provide a few SWSE builds for some of the NPCs I've created, as well as session notes as we run the Episode.  For now, consider this a teaser.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Delta Green: A Review

One of the conceits of a lot of fiction, whether it be movies, television, novels, or even roleplaying games is that the reasons a character is risking life or limb is answered only sketchily, or not at all.  Why is the hero, now up to his neck in dinosaur riding Nazis, on the deck of a spaceship in a decaying orbit above an inhospitalble planet in deep space, or fighting a dragon that just roasted his best friend into ash, still fighting when most of us, when confronted with such danger to life and limb, would more likely stay indoors, order Chinese takeout, and maybe have a glass of wine and watch that episode of Law and Order they missed last night?

This conceit is most keenly felt with horror.  Horror takes this leap of logic to absurd heights, and there is no worse offender than Call of Cthulhu, though other horror games are undoubtedly just as bad about it.  There's no doubt, from Lovecraft's fiction, and from a meatgrinder like Masks of Nyarlathotep, the quintessential Chaosium 1920's CofC campaign, that players who confront the various baddies from the Cthulhu Mythos are pretty much doomed to either go irretrievably mad, or be devoured by some horror from beyond time and space (or likely, some entertaining combination of the two).  In fact, probably the best thing that could happen to your typical Call of Cthulhu character is being stabbed to death by cultists.  Graveyards are filled with the bodies of characters who have died solving Masks of Nyarlathotep.  Whole forests from London to Constantinople and back have been stripped of every last tree to build coffins for the characters who have died in "Horror on the Orient Express."   Never mind that two dozen characters have been killed in a trail of bodies from New York to Kenya, that kindly old history professor you met in Kenya is just eager as punch to have his head cut off in a ritualistic murder in Shanghai.

Almost invariably, investigators in Call of Cthulhu wind up investigating a location, or a strange happening in a sleepy (usually New England) town.  Why are they doing this?  Usually, it boils down to one of the following:

1. Because one of the investigators inherited the house/mansion/old hotel/office building.  This is quite literally the hook for the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure "The Haunting" which has been published in one form or another in every edition of the core rulebook since 1981.  Never mind that the house is old enough and dilapidated enough that it should have been condemned back during the McKinley Administration, but damn it, Aunt Emily bequeathed it to us, and we're going to stay here overnight, even if that horror from beyond time and space in the attic menaces us with an axe.

2. Because a family member suffered a (usually violent and bizarre) crime in the location, and damn it, even if the case has completely baffled the police, the sheriff, Scotland Yard, the FBI, (insert law enforcement organization name here), somehow, I, a rank amateur who learned everything I know about crimefighting from reading Murder in the Rue Morgue, am going to do them all one better.

3. A member of the group found this weird old book, or artifact, examined it, and even though it gave the owner nightmares for a week when he read it, and cultists keep trying to kill them to take it from them, the group is bound and determined that they're going to investigate it further, even though it will likely kill them (and usually does).

Delta Green solves this dilemma by giving a reason and a rationale for why a character might actually confront horrors from beyond time and space (because it's his/her job), and a framework for replacing characters who are devoured, killed, or given the proverbial 9mm retirement plan.

The origin story behind Delta Green is it was born out of the Navy/Marine raid on Innsmouth very sparsely described at the end of Lovecraft's short story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."  In the wake of the raid, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) was left with various artifacts, a number of captured and killed Deep One/human hybrids, and a mountain of data to sort through.  The working group assigned to sort through all this data (and indeed conduct a few operations against the Mythos in the pre-WW2 era) became known as P Division.

This was more or less the status quo until shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  In February 1942, P Division's commanding officer in a meeting with the OSS (forerunner of the CIA) Director William Donovan, provides information from P Division's researches, particularly emphasizing a division of Himmler's SS, the Karotechia, that is interested in harnessing the Mythos for the war effort.  As a result of the meeting, P Division is transferred to the OSS, given a special security clearance "Delta Green" which eventually became the name of the agency.  Delta Green successfully fights the Mythos and the Karotechia throughout the rest of the war, and continues as an agency until the OSS is disbanded, at which time Delta Green is also disbanded in 1945.

This might have been the end of the story if it wasn't for a certain crash in Roswell, NM in 1947.  As a result of the Roswell investigation, two organizations are created, both out of men who formerly served in Delta Green.  Delta Green itself was reinstated.  And the slightly more infamous Majestic 12 was launched as well.  Both organizations fought turf wars, with Delta Green coming to realize more and more that while aliens were real, the UFO conspiracy wasn't what MJ-12 thought it was.  Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, both organizations warred for Federal dollars, for recognition, and sometimes for turf.  This continued until finally, in 1969, Delta Green had a leader go rogue, get a lot of men killed in Vietnam, and the resulting closed-door Congressional investigation led to the end of Delta Green as a legitimate agency.

But the Mythos is still there, and someone still needed to fight it.  Enter the Delta Green Conspiracy.  At first, a loose organization of former members of Delta Green from its days as a legitimate Federal Agency, a Majestic 12 Wetworks squad put an end to that in 1994 when they killed Delta Green's legendary leader, Reginald Fairfield.  Delta Green, whose membership had dwindled in the intervening 25 years due to deaths and retirements, was reinvented as a tightly controlled conspiracy within Federal law enforcement, organized using a cellular structure more reminiscent of a terrorist organization, to fight the battles humanity is already destined to lose.  That, in essence, is Delta Green.

Now that you know what Delta Green is about, here's a synopsis of the contents:

Delta Green is a 336 page volume.  Initially published in 1993, it was updated with d20 stat conversions after Wizards of the Coast's brief publication of d20 Call of Cthulhu in 2001 at the height of the d20 craze.  The latter edition can still be found for sale for the reasonable price of $39.95+shipping at Arkham Bazaar which is where I picked it up a year or two ago.  Three other sourcebooks (as well as three smaller chapter books) have been published for Delta Green since that time as supplements for the main book.  Finding two of those three books will cost you a fairly pretty penny.

Chapter 1: The Big Picture

If no other piece of Delta Green had been published in any form other than this chapter, it would have been a remarkable work.  Effectively, this chapter takes Lovecraft's fiction, much of the better Cthulhu Mythos fiction written by people other than Lovecraft, turns them into a cohesive whole, and frankly does a whole lot better job than Chaosium's Cthulhu Now of making modern Call of Cthulhu gaming a reality.  It outlines the main villains (the Mi-Go, in this case), the never-ending turf war with Majestic 12, the Federal alphabet soup concept that is the heart of the rationale for Delta Green (Big Brother Then and Now).

Chapter 2: Delta Green

This chapter basically outlines Delta Green.  What it's about, how it was formed, its history, important individuals in the organization, and a Timeline of events.

Chapter 3: Majestic 12

This chapter outlines Delta Green's nemesis among government conspiracies in Washington Majestic 12, outlining Majestic 12's history, its leadership, and most importantly, where UFO mythology fits into the picture.  Let's just say, it's not pretty.

Chapter 4: Karotechia

Just like there are probably still nonagenarian Nazis living in South America, Delta Green's old World War II nemesis still exists, albeit as a gray shadow of its former self.  The Karotechia would be almost laughable, if its connections to certain Elder Gods weren't real enough.

Chapter 5: SaucerWatch

Every UFO Conspiracy story needs a bunch of kooks getting in the way, asking dopey questions, getting into things over their head, and basically being an annoyance to real investigators doing the real work of learning the unknowable.  SaucerWatch fits that bill just fine.  This chapter details them.

Chapter 6: The FATE

Just like Prohibition, flapper girls, and Tommy Guns, gone are the days of crazy cultists wielding primitive weapons, and blending in with urban life about as well as cactii on a glacier.  Now the cultists are smart, suave, sophisticated, every bit as insane, and several orders of magnitude more dangerous.  The FATE is one such group, lovingly detailed.

Those 6 chapters, ironically, are less than half the page count of the book.  Afterward comes the world's longest appendix, or should I say, appendices, since there are no fewer than 10 of them.

Appendix A is a great bibliography

Appendix B gives a glossary of terminology, effectively the lingo of Delta Green.

Appendix C gives a list of Security Classifications.

Appendix D gives a list of Delta Green related Mythos and non-Mythos tomes with very real looking copies of documents.

Appendix E contains two adventures and a short campaign.

The first of two adventures, Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays, is an introductory adventure that would be a great starting point for a Delta Green campaign.  A group of Delta Green friendlies (not full agents, friendlies are possibly aware of the Mythos, and certainly unaware of the nature of Delta Green) chase a string of bizarre killings across the Desert Southwest.  Each killing is perpretated by a different person, but the MO is the same in each case.  It's a good 1-2 session adventure that's wonderful for getting players nice and confident of their chances of battling the Mythos, a notion the next adventure, Convergence, will quickly disabuse them of.

Convergence, is an update of the original Unspeakable Oath #7 adventure that Delta Green sprung from.  A group of Delta Green agents is investigating a horrific killing by a teenager endowed with inhuman strength in a sleepy town in Tennessee that has suffered a rash of UFO sightings.  It's a deadly adventure, with lots of ways for characters (and NPCs) to die, and endings that range from horrific to merely awful.  It's also a great con game that I recently ran at Conflagration.
The short campaign is The New Age, a great campaign that takes a strange New Age religious organization with a bit more going on behind the scenes than even most of its membership understands.

Appendix F gives Occupations and information on Creating Delta Green investigators for both BRP and d20 Call of Cthulhu.

Appendix G gives a pre-9/11 list of alphabet soup Federal Agencies that your Delta Green agent might be drawn from, with occupations, typical agents, and a brief description of the agency and typical roles in the agency that might become agents.  This list is really the heart of character generation, occupying almost 20% of the book by itself.

Appendix H gives new skills for both BRP and d20 Call of Cthulhu.

Appendix I is a list of new spells for both BRP/d20 Call of Cthulhu.

Appendix J is a fairly exhaustive list of firearms, both of US and foreign manufacture, with relevant stats for both d20 and BRP.

Finally the book is rounded out with an extensive index, something that's always a plus.


* This is really the best, most logical, and cohesive way to play modern Call of Cthulhu.  Chapter 1 of the book alone should be required reading for any new Keeper thinking of running a modern Call of Cthulhu game.

* Each chapter is well-written, with numerous adventure hooks, and the character generation information is topnotch.  The adventures themselves do a great job of providing numerous examples of what a Delta Green game should be like.

* For the amount of material, the $39.95 sticker price looks very reasonable.


* One big one in particular.  Copyright 1997.  Delta Green is a product of the 1990s, and a Keeper had best understand it hasn't really been updated since.  Even the 2001 reprint to add d20 stats didn't change much, and the fact that a lot of law enforcement agencies have been consolidated under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security (insert eyeroll here) leads one to question the veracity of some of the data in this day and age.

In a country, where in the last decade, we have literally thrown away trillions of dollars on national security, only to learn that we're not that much safer (and certainly have a whole lot less privacy).  Where we've funded Federal, state, and local law enforcement to the point that rural sheriff's departments are now requisitioning armored cars at the same time their school districts are laying teachers off by the score, its hard to believe that Delta Green is still an underfunded, illegal government conspiracy having to barely scrape by.

Fortunately, Arc Dream Publishing and Pagan Publishing are working on the Delta Green RPG, which should solve this, but until then, you'll have to tweak a few assumptions of running a post-9/11 game where such things are needed.

Content: 4 out of 5 (I marked this one down mostly due to the pre-9/11 setting material.  What's here is nothing short of top notch.

Art & Layout: 5 of 5.  Though black and white, Delta Green is a gorgeous book, nicely laid out, with an exhaustive Table of Contents, Bibliography and Index.  A lot of more modern game books would do well to emulate Delta Green for its ease in terms of finding what you need quickly as a GM.

Overall Value: 5 of 5.  Delta Green, like its later expanding sourcebooks, Countdown, Eyes Only, and Targets of Opportunity, (more on those in future reviews) all have one thing in common.  Exquisitely written material, tons of adventure hooks, some really well-written adventures, and tons of stuff you can use in your games.  If you play or run Call of Cthulhu, and haven't picked this one up yet, you're really missing out.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nostalgia Stinks

Let me begin by saying that I generally have little time for nostalgia in general. I've revisited some of my favorite television series from my youth, and realized that not only are they disappointing now, but I'm not real sure what I saw in them back then that made me enjoy them so much. Ditto video games. Ditto some music. Ditto some books I've read. So bear that in mind as you read on.

The following represents one grognard's opinion. It may provoke debate, which is perfectly fine.

I'm an old gamer. I'm not too terribly many years away from being eligible for an AARP card. I bought my first wargame, Avalon Hill's The Russian Campaign when I was 12. I bought my first RPG, the Traveller Little Black Book boxed set, at age 14. Both of those events are pushing 30-35 years ago. Back in those days I ran and played in a lot of Traveller, some of SPI's short-lived but excellent hard sci-fiRPG Universe, D&D (starting with the red box Basic Set, moving on to the Blue Box Expert set, and then on to First Edition AD&D). Later on I included things like Boot Hill, Tunnels and Trolls, Gamma World.

I don't play any of those games now and there's a reason for that. The art of game design has moved on past most of those old games. There are still some gems. I think Classic Traveller holds up reasonably well for its age, though I think the 1950's Golden Age of SciFi tropes and setting common to all versions of Traveller (including Mongoose's version), were actually tired 20 years ago at this point. I think Call of Cthulhu holds up remarkably well for the genre it represents, though I'm grateful Delta Green is there to remind people that present day Call of Cthulhu can be as good or better than the 1920's pulp setting Chaosium was so eager to detail. The truth is I was tired of 1st Ed AD&D and its progenitors before the Reagan Administration was over. I skipped 2nd Ed entirely (too similar to its predecessor), and really didn't pick up another version of D&D until 3rd Edition.

The biggest reason for this is that D&D and 1st Ed AD&D, boiled down to its nuts and bolts, were too table dependent (fuck Thack-Zero and the horse it rode in on), and frankly, for a newbie player, gave absolutely nothing to hang their hat on in terms of character design compared to most of its contemporaries, let alone the legion of designs that have come since. All you had were six abstract numbers. Comparing this to Call of Cthulhu, with its large number of occupations and skills, or Traveller and its prior career generation system, character design in pre-3rd Ed D&D seemed wonderfully quaint back in the early 1980's, let alone 20 years later when the rest of the world had pretty much left AD&D in the dust in terms of design.

This is kind of the RPG equivalent of pretending that wargame design peaked with Chess, or that first-person shooters never got better than classic Doom.  While there's nothing wrong with admiring these games, or even playing them (I still play Call of Cthulhu, and have a near complete set of Classic Traveller books, including third party stuff), I would hardly want to go back to playing nothing but them.

I say this because in recent years, I've been somewhat amused by the Old School movement. Effectively it consists of using the 3rd Edition OGL to basically reconstruct 1st Ed D&D/AD&D. There are a number of systems doing this. Some of them are skewing so close to the style, design, layout, and text of the 1st Ed AD&D/Basic D&D that they might as well have taken the 1st Ed DMG, Player's Handbook, and Monster Manual removed the cover art, and just put a yellow-wrap cover on it like the old generic food labels of the 1980's.

Now some of the games are incorporating other innovations. I for one am rather impressed by Old School Hack, which ties together some of the basic D&D tropes with some more modern design concepts. It's not likely I'd ever play it, but I'll give it, and some of the others, credit for not just trying to recreate a design that had ceased to be interesting before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

However, I have to say I have no idea why somebody would go all the way back to something like OSRIC, which painstakingly reconstructs 1st Ed AD&D out of 3rd Ed, and tries to pretend that 30 years of design, and more importantly, innovation never happened. I've been there. I've played all the 1st Edition AD&D I ever want to play, and frankly, I didn't enjoy it that much after a while back then.

My Holy Grail

Have you ever had a movie, television, or novel property that you thought just screamed for somebody to do a setting or RPG for?

Here it is the week before Conflagration, and I'm spending an evening working on adapting S M Stirling's Emberverse series (or at least, the first trilogy of novels) to Basic Roleplaying system, which is rapidly becoming my favorite generic system for its ease of use.

Anyway, I needed a break from reading the stuff I'm running for the Con, and this is what I'm doing for the moment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cthulhu Invictus: A Review

OK. I'll admit it. I've gone in the past few years from a guy who'd never run a horror game in his life to somebody who counts Call of Cthulhu (and particularly its third-party setting, Delta Green) amongst his favorite systems.

One of the things I like about Call of Cthulhu is the ease with which it can be modified to play cosmic horror in a variety of historical eras. The core rulebook itself provides support for games set in the Victorian era, the 1920s, and current day. A few years ago, Cthulhu Dark Ages took the tentacled beasties back to the 10th Century. Cthulhu Invictus, Chaosium's latest for the game line, takes Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth, the Deep Ones, a whole bunch of new Lovecraftian horrors from ancient mythology and Cthulhu himself all the way back to the First Century AD, during the Julio-Claudian dynasty, when the Roman Empire was at its absolute zenith.

Cover and layout:

Cthulhu Invictus is a gorgeous work. The front cover is haunting, the interior illustrations (mostly charcoal and or pencil drawings) evocative of the setting, and the rest of the layout economic and best of all, uncluttered.

4 out of 5.


The challenge of gaming in a historical period can be daunting for a gamer unfamiliar with the period, and requires different thinking than a modern day or more recent setting period might. Wisely, Cthulhu Invictus acknowledges this.

Chapter 1 begins with a good section on Rome the city, as well as Roman culture, followed by a timeline of historical events leading up to 80 CE (the setting pretty much wraps up around this time, during the reign of Titus, who was the son of Vespasian, who was the last man standing during the Roman Civil War of 69 CE, known as the "Year of the Four Emperors." This is then followed with a very thorough survey of the myriad of regions of the Roman Empire, along with barbarian territories on its border. This section takes up a good third of the book, meaning that Chaosium did its job.

Chapter 2: Character Creation takes a look at some of the differences between a 20th Century and 1st Century game, with a suggestion on character names, new occupations, aging, money, etc. Besides the obvious differences in occupations, it's worth noting that aging is tweaked substantively to reflect the shorter lifespans of the day.

Chapter 3: Skills modifies the skill list, adding a lot of the same skills that are found in Cthulhu Dark Ages, a host of new weapons skills, and obviously deleting the historical anachronisms from the regular Call of Cthulhu game. Credit Rating is effectively replaced by Status, Natural History is replaced by Natural World, and a few other skills are added.

Chapter 4: Equipment and Supplies adds Roman era equipment.

Chapter 5: Recovering Sanity (a single page) outlines the difficulties in recovering sanity in a day when Sigmund Freud wouldn't exist for another 1800 years.

Chapter 6: Combat, adds some important changes to combat to add more options to melee combat, as well as adding a variety of new melee and ranged weapons, armor, herbs, and poisons.

Chapter 7: Siege Weapons briefly outlines the larger siege weapons of the period, as well as Greek Fire (which is something of an anachronism for a game set in the First Century, as Greek Fire really wasn't developed until well after the demise of the Western Roman Empire, and well into the Byzantine period (which is the reason it's called Greek Fire, not Roman Fire). My guess is that the various Siege weapon skills in Cthulhu Invictus will be about as useless as the Operate Heavy Machinery skill in the base game.

Chapter 8: The Grimoire, speaks about Roman religion, provides a host of new spells, new tomes, and melds right into Chapter 9: Bestiary, with a variety of new creatures, as well as hints for how to work existing Mythos creatures from the corebook into the setting. Rejoice, oh, Dark Young can be devoured by them in Rome as well as Arkham.

Chapter 10: Cults and Secret Societies takes a look at the more esoteric religions, cults (both mythos-related and more benign) evolving in the Roman world at the time. While Christians may object to the description of their own religion at the time, considering its small following some 250 years before the rise of Constantine, cult is probably an apt description.

Finally, the book wraps up with a section on the legions, a short scenario, and a bibliography/selected reading list.

The section is thorough, and gives a good amount of information for running a Roman era game. I don't think it could be better without becoming a history tome.

5 of 5

Overall Value:

For the most part, Chaosium seems to be content to live off of past glories. The company does a lot more republishing of its classic titles (and slight revisions to its rulebook) these days than publishing new titles. Cthulhu Dark Ages was an exception to that a few years ago. Still outside of the Monograph program (where Chaosium sticks a front cover on what is otherwise an author written, edited, and laid out creation), whose work can only be regarded as of uneven quality (Cthulhu Invictus itself saw an earlier life as a Monograph, this new version is a much improved revision), a lot more third-party stuff from publishers (Pagan Publishing/Arc Dream, Miskatonic River Press, SuperGenius Games, Goodman Games, etc.), as well as third-party licensed games (Pelgrane's Trail of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu etc.) than actually gets put out by Chaosium.

Still Cthulhu Invictus shows that Chaosium can still support its game. A book of scenarios is published for it (Cthulhu Invictus Companion), and Miskatonic River Press has published a campaign for it. Hopefully this won't be the last we see of the game.

At a cover price of $25, if you like Call of Cthulhu, have an interest in the Roman era, and like the idea of throwing the two together in a blender and hitting frappe, you could certainly find worse places to spend $25 than Cthulhu Invictus.

5 of 5.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Con Game Preparation IV: A Dirty World - Bucknell 13, Delaware 7

A Dirty World is the one Dollar original I'm running. I had actually had plans to run a second original design, a pulp era game, but frankly it was coming in a bit long to really run at a con, and I was hesitant to cut it down as just too perfect. So I'll torture my group with it at an unspecified future date. Let's just say Dinosaurs, World War II era Japanese super-soldier experiments, zombies, and chimera were just too much awesome for one four hour session. But that's a topic for another post or two. :)

A few weeks ago I reviewed A Dirty World, go read it if you need a refresher on what the game is like. The beauty of the one-roll engine, in any flavor I've seen, is that it's an easy game to teach. I taught it to my current group in the space of about ten minutes. This makes it basically ideal for a convention game, where time is at a premium, and one would rather not spend the first hour of a four hour block teaching game rules.

The biggest reason for creating a game for A Dirty World is that I truly love film noir. I've got a sizable collection of films from the era, as well as later films that really seem steeped in the atmospherics of it. The trouble is, I tend to let my id run wild in creating such games.

My first original scenario was a sordid tale in the depression era South involving white slavery, bigamy, murder, and blackmail. If Bucknell 13, Delaware 7 is any indication, I was just getting started.

It's an ambitious scenario. The players can interact with a good dozen and a half NPCs (though I suspect several of them the players may never meet directly, some of whom are red herrings, some of whom are vital to the plot, and all of whom are pretty much horribly messed up human beings. The PCs themselves are a mess. Every one of them is horribly flawed, most of them are pretty well despicable, and in some cases, the possibility of character conflict is almost inevitable.

In other words, it's one of my Dirty World games.

Con Game Preparation III: Darwin's World-The High Road to Hell.

Next Up, I'll talk about preparation for the High Road to Hell.

Darwin's World is a third-party campaign setting for d20 Modern, WotC's venerable, out of print Modern line using the OGL. Fortunately, while the d20 Modern print books are long since out of print (though they can still be had second hand rather readily), the Modern SRD is still available for the asking, and a nice PDF of the MSRD rules can be had free from Darwin's World's publisher, RPG Objects. Darwin's World is simply the best d20 post-apocalyptic setting out there, with a broad range of support, and a very plausible, post-nuclear setting.

The High Road to Hell is another published adventure. My responsibilities here have mainly extended to building serviceable pregenerated characters, drawing up maps, and getting things ready to run. I've still got a few maps to do, but that should be finished by tomorrow afternoon. High Road to Hell is basically a wilderness adventure where the PCs are attempting to catch up to and rescue some kidnapping victims while racing the clock to do it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Con Game Preparation II: Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green - The Last Equation

I actually started writing a one-shot for this one...and will finish it one day, but I decided instead to run the excellent short adventure for Delta Green, The Last Equation.

For those unfamiliar with Delta Green, it was a setting originally published about a year prior to the start of the X-Files. It basically takes UFO and Paranormal mythology in a different direction than X-Files, adds a revamped and updated for the present look at the Cthulhu Mythos, throws it in the blender with contemporary UFO and Paranormal mythologies, and hits frappe.

There are several elements that make a good Call of Cthulhu game. First, the menace needs to be one that can't easily be comprehended by the players. Second, it needs to have an ancient, murky origin. Third, there has to be a real, palpable sense that players can die from this threat, even if they do everything perfectly. The Last Equation fits these molds perfectly and like most great horror tales, the monster isn't half as dangerous to the characters as the characters themselves are.

My work on the game consisted mostly in generating pregenerated characters. I'm using the excellent HeroLab (with the Call of Cthulhu data files suitably modified for Delta Green), and generated 10 characters...out of those, the players will choose six. Due to a precondition of the game, there's a very likely chance some of these character may or may not be played based on the game instructions. Depending on the characters the players select, this could be a very different game.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Con Game Preparation I: Star Wars Saga Edition-The Betrayal of Darth Revan

Betrayal of Darth Revan is a game I've tried to get on the table for a couple of years now. It's a WotC RPGA module that was created for GenCon 2008 (timed to coincide with the release of the Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide for Saga Edition). For those familiar with the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU), that is the novels, comics, video games, etc. set in the Star Wars universe, the module takes place not long before the start of 2002's Knights of the Old Republic video game and is a key part of an event that appears in a couple of cut scenes from the game.

It's a fabulous adventure that was released by the RPGA when they ended support for the Saga line. It combines a little of everything that makes the Old Republic era great in the first place, Jedi vs. Sith, lots of aliens, space battles, ground battles, the works. I've never run or played it before, but I've read it and can't wait to put it on the table.

The fortunate thing about this one is I've got very little prep to do. Print the maps, create my usual hints one-page to give neophytes a primer on the rules system, print the character sheets and the adventure text, and study the adventure in depth.

As for what led me to choose it? I figured, with the release of the MMO, that there might be renewed interest in the Old Republic era, and that this would be a good, easy to do tie-in to the game. It also acts as a pretty good overview of the system, and looks like a rollicking good time.

Con Game Preparation

After watching one of my long-running campaigns come to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago, I've devoted the last two weekends to preparation of four one-shot adventures for the upcoming 2012 Phoenix Vul-Con.

Although I've certainly done it numerous times over the years, preparing for convention games is a unique experience. When I run games for my regular gaming groups, I've got a reasonable idea of what may fire up my players (though this can vary at times), and if nothing else, I can always ask.

Obviously, there is no feedback loop in time to do any good with a player group at a session. You can playtest it with your regular group (unless some of those folks want to play it at the con, but that's about it) for length, but even that is a different experience than it will be for first-time players who don't know you as a GM, in most cases won't know the game system, and likely don't even know each other.

So what does a conscientious GM do? In my case, I've created (or chosen, in the case of the couple of pre-made adventures I'm running) games that I think I can run successfully, and would enjoy playing in as a player.

In the coming days, I'll discuss the four adventures I'm running, and comments on each of them (spoiler free, of course), on why I chose them, and the things I think they bring to a con game.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Everytime I think I'm out, they drag me back in.

For those who've known me for a long time, across the decades, they will know that, unlike most gamers of a certain age, my entry into RPGs wasn't via Dungeons and Dragons. It was through Traveller's three little black books that I entered the hobby, and while I certainly have played other games, particularly in recent years, for every hour I've played various incarnations of Dungeons and Dragons, or Call of Cthulhu, or d20 Modern, or any of the other games I've played, I've played probably 40-50 hours of Traveller in one of its various forms.

Unfortunately, I reached a point about 8-9 years ago where I was just burnt out on the game. d20 Star Wars had caught my eye, and dragged me into various forms of d20, and I just kind of lost interest in the old game.

Courtesy of this discussion at Grognardia, however, the interest has been engaged again. I still own all my own stuff (a near complete collection of every Traveller reference from the original 1977 boxed set until the demise of Traveller 4th Edition in 1998) and I just took the plunge and ordered the Core Rulebook for Mongoose Traveller (never could get into GURPS).

So when I get done planning and running con games here at the month, it looks like I might be running Traveller again...for the first time in nearly a decade. Oddly, I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

For Those Going to Vul-Con

Consider this another preview of coming distractions.

I wasn't liking the way the pulp game was looking, so I pulled it. Still, there's plenty of amusement to be had by all. Here's a thumbnail sketch of each of them.

Call of Cthulhu-Delta Green: The Last Equation.

For those unfamiliar with Delta Green, it basically takes H P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, late 20th Century UFO and Government Conspiracy theories that were such fodder for the X-Files (though Delta Green predates the X-Files), puts them all into a blender and hits frappe.

The Last Equation is a Dennis Detwiller creation I figured was about the right length for a late night Saturday night convention slot. It's a great game with strong Mythos undertones and should play well.

Star Wars Saga Edition - The Betrayal of Darth Revan: Set in the same era as the two Knights of the Old Republic video games (and roughly 300 years before the recently released MMO), this is a former GenCon WotC game I've not had the chance to run before, and am looking forward to. It's something of a prequel to the first video game, Knights of the Old Republic, and looks very good.

Darwin's World - The High Road to Hell: Based on d20 Modern's rule system (still available online as the Modern System Reference Document, or MSRD), Darwin's World is a grimmer, grittier take on Post-Apocalyptic role-playing than Gamma World, or some other takes on the genre. The designers were very definitely thinking of the first two Fallout games when they designed this one, though it's enough different from Fallout to not really be compared to it. This is a low-level (5th Level) adventure that is a former GenCon scenario for the game).

A Dirty World - Bucknell 13, Delaware 7: Based on Greg Stolze's one-roll engine (the same dice mechanic behind Wild Talents, and its various brother superhero games, as well as Reign (sword and board fantasy), and Nemesis (horror), this is a film noir game. For Senator Benjamin Bucknell, the day began by watching his alma mater win a football game, and ended with his being shot. What happens after is up to the players.