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Petri Wessman's weblog

Minireview: Delta Green: Tales from Failed Anatomies, by Dennis Detwiller

Tales from Failed Anatomies is a collection of Delta Green stories from Dennis Detwiller, and it’s damn good. Not just good as rpg fiction, good as fiction period. Most of the stories are new for this volume, though the collection does contain some older, previously available stories (I’ve read at least “Drowning in Sand” and “The Thing in the Pit” before). The stories have the common theme of having something to do with Delta Green (or its Soviet counterpart, GRU-SV8) or the Cthulhu mythos, and are set at various points in history. The tales are arranged in time order, with the first ones set in the WWI and WW2 eras (the disastrous Innsmouth raid is one connecting point), and the last one is set in our future (and potential Apocalypse). Otherwise, all of the stories are stand-alone and most of them do not require any sort of Cthulhu Mythos and/or DG background information, they should work great as just general horror fiction.

Though there are a few stories here that don’t totally work, in general this is a high quality collection. The mood is nihilistic and grim, as befits the Delta Green theme, but the stories are very clever and quite different from each other and told from various different perspectives. While Delta Green fiction before this has set a high bar, this is possibly the best DG short story anthology to date. Recommended.

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Minireview: Through a Glass, Darkly, by Dennis Detwiller

Through a Glass, Darkly is the latest published Delta Green novel. Stuck a long time in literary limbo, it finally saw the light of day via Kickstarter.

It’s a good book, and almost essential reading to anyone interested in Delta Green. However, you must know the setting in order to understand anything here. If “green box”, “Groversille”, “NRO DELTA” and “A-Cell” are familiar concepts to you: dive right in. It’s quite a ride. If not, please skip reading this book until your security clearance improves. Page count is not expended here in needless exposition, and readers without the required background info will almost certainly be left bewildered.

The story itself details a critical junction point for Delta Green, perhaps foreshadowing the way the game setting will be updated in the upcoming new version. The original DG was set firmly in the middle of 1990’s paranoia, and some elements there are a bit dated now. The events in this book show one way in which the long cold war between Delta Green and Majestic-12 may come to an end. Well, sort of.

The plot concerns Project Looking Glass, a strange device with possibly vast implications. Some people vanish, and later a young boy appears at his parents’ door. Problem is, the boy in question has been dead and buried for years. The parents do not dare question the “miracle” of the return of their son, but DG is more paranoid. With good reason, as it turns out. From there, events escalate, with some ancient players of the covert game coming out of the woodwork, some for the final time.

The ending is a bit bizarre, I think I may need a re-read to totally figure out what happened. That doesn’t detract, though. The book is a fast read, and events proceed in ever-escalating fashion with a suitably climactic conclusion.

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New Delta Green novel ransom

Dennis Detwiller’s long-rumored new Delta Green novel “Throught a Glass, Darkly” is now up for ransom at Kickstarter. For us E.U. people, contributing $35 gets you both an ebook version of the book (once complete) and a limited-edition hardcover dead-tree copy, in addition to your name in the acknowledgements of the book. I’m in, naturally enough, Delta Green novels and short stories have all been very high in quality at least so far.

They’re trying to raise a fairly substantial sum ($26,000), which will cover both the limited-edition hardcover (for the Kickstarter supporters), the ebook version, and a mass-market paperback. The time limit is two months (up to June 19th). As always with these things, you only pay the “ransom” amount if the project succeeds, so it’s a no-risk proposition.

They (Arc Dream Publishing that is) have also opened up this ransom for retailers and distributors. For example, one of the ransom options is as follows:

PLEDGE $180 OR MORE (Qualified retailers or distributors in Canada or the E.U. only. Contact shane.ivey@gmail.com to confirm.) The ebook edition and 10 copies of the hardcover limited edition. For each additional $18 we’ll send another copy of the hardcover. This fundraiser is the only way retailers will be able to order the hardcover limited edition at a discount.

That means that game stores also have the option of getting some copies of the otherwise-unavailable hardcover edition (plus ebook edition), for $18 per copy ($15 for stores/distributors inside the US) including shipping. Might be a fun specialty item for some stores, perhaps, and in any case it’s a nice option.

And hey, there’s also the luxury support option: :)

PLEDGE $4,000 OR MORE LIMITED REWARD 1 of 1 remaining (Elsewhere.) Your name appears in a special dedication in ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’; you get the ebook edition and up to 50 copies of the hardcover limited edition shipped anywhere in the world; and author Dennis Detwiller will fly to your town to perform a live reading from ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ at the venue of your choice (some restrictions may apply) or run a game of Delta Green for you and your friends.

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Minireview: Targets of Opportunity (Delta Green)

Targets of Opportunity is the latest supplement for the Delta Green game (variant of modern-day Call of Cthulhu), and it has a long and eventful history. Parts of it were originally written about 15 years ago and parts were written to order just for this book. In 2008 Pagan Publishing together with Arc Dream decided to publish a new Delta Green book, one that collected both old but not-published-yet original material and brand new stuff. They had just released the Eyes Only supplement at the time, and decided to try a ransom model to finance the new book: people would chip in with certain amounts, and then get the book (hardcopy plus PDF) when it was ready. It was a sort of advance order scheme for the customers, and made it possible for Pagan to do a new project without setting down a huge front of money for it. All good on paper and in theory.

Well, it turned into a two-year development mess, as detailed by Shane Ivey (of Arc Dream) here. Some people got a bit impatient during that time but I personally didn’t, I was and still am firmly in the “better late than shoddy” camp. The wait was well worth it, since the final product is quite awesome.

The book consists of five chapters, detailing four separate antagonist groups to throw at your players plus one potential ally (or even employer). They are all very different, and all very interesting. The antagonists are all extremely creepy and disturbing, in different ways and on different power scales. A few are quite small and localized, while the biggest one is a true globe-spanning conspiracy.

“Black Cod Island” opens up the book, detailing a Native American tribe living on a tiny remote island off the coast of southern Alaska. While inoffensive and friendly to the occasional tourist, they are quite insular and keep tight control on who enters their lands. There is a reason for this, and it’s not pretty. While qutie small-scale and not a world-shattering Mythos threat, this one would still be a very difficult case for DG agents since… well, those people have been there forever. And they know people, and know things.

Next up is “Disciples of the Worm”, which illuminates a a cult searching for the secret of immortality, having perhaps already found it. But if so, what was the price? There’s a lot of body horror here, and I’m sure David Cronenberg could make an icky (and brilliant) film from this stuff. Very nice medium-scale antagonist group, with lots of surprises in store for players who think they know it all.

Thirdly we get “The De Monte Clan”, which is an insidious ghoul clan which has kept New Orleans in its grip for centuries… until Katrina, that is. Now, the ghouls and their henchmen are trying to return to the old ways, but the disaster plus the cleanup has made things very difficult for them. In addition, the theft of a critical mystical book from them (as detailed in a separate Delta Green short story not included here) has seriously thrown a spanner in their long-term plans. Related to that, Delta Green is now on their tail, with the first contact resulting in one permanently insane agent and lots of dead ghouls. Both groups are now in “cold war” status, with neither knowing as much as they’d like about their enemy. In short, and excellent “sink or swim” cauldron to throw the players into.

“M-EPIC” serves up the “allied group” of the book, which turns out to be a Canadian “counterpart” to Delta Green. Operating under the cover of the Environmental Policy Impact Comission (Division M), the agents of M-EPIC have an easier time of things in general than Delta Green, mostly because M-EPIC is an official (if covert) government agency instead of a rogue operation. Of course, this does also mean that they need to deal with budgets, bureaucracy and all that crap. Much of their agenda has to do with investigating supernatural threats on Canadian soil (many of them related to Ithaqua), and of course the guise of an environmental agency gives them perfect cover to stick their heads into lots of places which would otherwise be off limits. The agency is depicted as heading toward disaster but unaware of it yet: there is a dark secret at the core of the agency, and the psychological wellfare of the agents is being neglected in practice. All this makes for a great “home base” to run a Canadian “Delta Green” game from, and naturally enough M-EPIC agents make excellent allies, “friendlies” and even antagonists to Delta Green agents.

The last section is also the biggest, clocking in at around 100 pages. It’s Greg Stolze’s “The Cult of Transcendence”, and it’s fantastic (and very nasty). It details a complicated, global conspiracy – or maybe “meta-conspiracy”, since there are so many layers here that figuring out what’s at the core is an insanely difficult exercise. Any agents who do figure out what’s at the core will wish they hadn’t, since that core is exceptionally rotten even by Delta Green standards. There’s lots of splatter horror here, but it never gets out of hand, and the contrast between that and the more “normal” sections of the conspiracy is interesting. At the core, it takes a look at what would be needed for a group of people to actually leave their humanity behind and “transcend” to Mythos entities. It’s not pretty.

This is an excellent, excellent book, and it’s also a great read. Anyone looking for modern horror/occult content for a roleplaying game can get lots of mileage out of this, even though the book contains no “scenarios” as such: it’s all background material, NPCs, etc.

I do have to note a hilarious tiny gaffe in the otherwise impeccable book: one subsection posits a “Center for Sleep Treatment” located in Tampere, Finland. Fine, except that the name of the place is translated as “Keskus Nukkua Kohtelu”. As any Finn can tell you, that’s total gibberish and a warning example of what happens when you try to use a computerized translating tool without running the result past an actual human who knows the language (yes, all those words do exist in Finnish, but you would not combine them like that). “Unitutkimuskeskus” would be one possible translation.

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Minireview: A Resection of Time (Call of Cthulhu)

“Modern-day” Cthulhu scenarios aren’t too common, as compared to the “classic-era” 1920s ones…. and the ones that do exist tend to be set in the 1980s or 1990s, which was current when they were written. A Resection of Time is one the few available scenarios in this group – and it’s pretty damn good. Besides being a nice mini-campaign (it’s a bit long to be merely be called a “scenario”, but too short for “campaign”) for Call of Cthulhu, this one would also make a very decent Delta Green scenario with quite minimal modification.

Subtitled “The Strange Case of Kyle Woodson: A Scenario”, the scenario begins with the PCs being tasked to investigate the death of an archeologist specializing in ancient Mayan culture, one Kyle Woodson. As written, the scenario strongly suggests that at least one of the PCs have a strong past connection with Kyle, having been at a dig with him years back. It’s quite doable to have the whole PC group be old archeologist friends / workmates of Kyle (this has implications later on, though I’ll avoid saying what implications to avoid spoilers). Kyle was struck by a speeding car in what seems to be a hit-and-run, possibly an intentional one. However, the autopsy found something very disturbing, so… cue the PCs.

Opportunities for sanity loss abound, and the PCs will fast find that their interest in the case hasn’t gone unnoticed. In the end, it’s likely that the leads will point towards Belize and some old dig sites… and assuming the PCs go there, they’ll find out things they’ll sincerely wish they hadn’t. There is a very nice plot twist at one point, which is improved by some GM foreshadowing in the previous sections.

Like I said, this is a strong scenario. It’s not perfect; some of the initial data about Kyle’s death is a bit contradictory in what seems to be a genuine mistake by the author, but that’s easy enough to rectify. Also, the scenario really needs for at least one of the PCs to have had old connections with Kyle, and to have been on site at a dig with him. Reverse-engineering this into an ongoing campaign might be tricky.

Also as noted, a very competent scenario for Delta Green, with the caveats about PC past involvement still valid.

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Targets of Opportunity is here (sort of)

The long-ago ransomed Delta Green book Targets of Opportunity is finally here. Well, as PDF anyway. All of us ransom participants got the PDF (link was in my Inbox this morning) and will get the printed hardcover book later when it materializes. The book is also available for normal pre-order now; the first printing will be a limited hardcover run of 1000 copies (most going to ransom participants), with a paperback retail edition to follow some time later.

A quick skim of the PDF gives a very good impression. It’s a bit over 300 pages, with the traditional Delta Green layout and nice, evocative art. Haven’t read it yet (obviously) and might wait until the printed book arrives to do so, but judging by the writers involved with this thing (Greg Stolze, Ken Hite, Dennis Detwiller, etc) I expect the textual contents to be top-notch.

The book contains:

  • “Black Cod Island”, an Alaskan / American Indian scenario with related setting info
  • “M-EPIC”, a Canadian counterpart to Delta Green
  • “Disciples of the Worm”, a sinister group, with scenario
  • “The DeMonte Clan”, a menace rooted in post-disaster New Orleans
  • “The Cult of Transcendence”, one more sinister cult
  • a bunch of appendixes about game rules tweaks and hints on how to run a DG game

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Burning sand

A discussion on the Delta Green mailing list led me to read about chlorine trifluoride. Impressively scary stuff, one is not used to chemicals which can cause rocks to ignite. Very suitable for placing into roleplaying scenarios as a very nasty trap or “toxic chemical”. In real life, if encountered you need to run. Fast. In opposite direction.

Oh, and as it’s burning up that rock and sand it also releases lethal byproducts. Charming.

As the last comment on that blog entry says:

“Suitable extinguishing media: None.” Says it all, really,

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Minireview: Delta Green: Eyes Only

An alien conspiracy 160 million years in the making.

A group so powerful, their leader may be a god.

An accident so terrible it threatens the past, present and future.

To DELTA GREEN, it’s just another goddamn Night at the Opera.

Finally got around to reading this. Wow, once again; I have yet to be disappointed by any Delta Green book. This is extremely good stuff and quite creepy to boot.

Delta Green: Eyes Only collects three old and long (long!) out-of-print chapbooks for DG, and adds in three new scenarios (each one built around one of the chapbooks) and some extra articles. The first section/chapbook, “The Machinations of the Mi-Go”, concerns the Mi-Go (no surprise) and expands on their operations from what we’re told in the core book. While good, this section is maybe the weakest, simply because there isn’t all that much new here – lots of nice expansions on previous ideas, though. The second section, “The Fate”, deals with that organization (also initially introduced in the corebook), and here they are shown to be even scarier than initially depicted – which is understandable given the “default” answer presented here as to who/what Stephen Alzis actually is. Nice character detail on all the “Lords” is given, in addition to some supporting cast.

The last non-adventure section, “Project Rainbow”, is perhaps the best, and it’s completely original to this book – namely, the DG version of the Philadelphia Experiment. Very creepy and very cool.

Next up we have the scenarios. First is “A Night on Owlshead Mountain” which is a very nice scenario connected with the Mi-Go – but in a pleasantly subtle way. Probably the easiest scenario in this bunch to integrate with an existing campaign. Second up is “Artifact Zero”, which is a chilling and extremely deadly scenario built around the Project Rainbow stuff. Really good scenario, but also so ridiculously deadly that it makes Convergence from the core book look a bit tame. Run this for established play groups only if you’re prepared to lose a lot of PCs. I’d personally run this as a one-shot, and continue on with survivors (if any). You need a ridiculous level of paranoia to survive this thing. Not a bad thing, but… well, you have been warned. This one is nasty and unfair.

Last up is “Holy War”, which concerns internal Fate politics and the fallout of that into the hands of DG and other groups, set in New York just after 9/11. Reads like a nice adventure, but probably best suited for more experienced agents.

All in all, I was extremely impressed with this book, it continues the very high level of quality that Delta Green books are known for. If you want some nasty nihilism into your modern-day occult/supernatural games, you can’t really go wrong with Delta Green material.

As an aside, Scott Glancy just announced on the DG mailing list that a softcover reprint of “Eyes Only” is going to the printers today – so expect to see that available from some places in the near future. Good news for those who missed the original 1000-copy print run, which sold out fast.

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Minireview: Delta Green

Well, after having run a few (kinda sorta) Delta Green one shot scenarios, I’ve now finally gotten around to reading the core book. I was pretty familiar with the general game/world setup before, having read all the DG novels and short stories – but still, this was very much worth reading. I can easily understand why people went “whoah!” when this was first published, and why the original print run sold out: this is Cthulhu updated to the modern age, dripping with conspiracy, paranoia and a sense of doom. The whole tone here is “push back the darkness one more day”, and it picks up a lot of cues from cold war spy stories. Burned-out people trying to keep themselves alive and sane by whatever means necessary, fighting an invisible war that most other people around them are (happily) blind to.

The basic tone and setup is reminiscent of The X-Files (though frequently much grimmer), but it’s not a copy; Delta Green preceeded X-Files by about a year, and was born from the writers wanting a modern Cthulhu game in which the PCs actually had a reason to stick together.

This new edition of the game is hardbound and is double-statted for BRP/d20, but it otherwise identical to the original as far as I know. It contains info on the basic game setup and details on the main groups, most of which are hostile to Delta Green. The second half of the book contains three scenarios: the startup scenario Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays, the (in)famously deadly Convergence, and a longer mini-campaign titled The New Age. All are very good, though I’d hesistate to run Convergence other than as a one-shot, it’s ridiculouly dangerous even for a Cthuhu scenario and should result in an extremely likely total party kill (not “possible”, but “almost certain”). You have been warned.

The book ends up with a big infodump on U.S. government agencies (I had no idea there were so many, the alphabet soup here can make your head spin). Extremely nice detail if you want to add a degree of realistic detail to your game, and should be useful as a resource for other games, too.

There have been some claims that Delta Green doesn’t really work in the post-9/11 U.S., with the tighter scrutiny on federal agency ops and anti-terrorist paranoia which makes a cell operation like Delta Green look precisely like a terrorist operation. Which it is, in many regards. I’m not sure about all that – government agencies are massive things with typically low efficiencies and lots of obfuscation and layers, it doesn’t strain my sense of disbelief to have “shadow ops” still going on under official pretenses. Also, some have said that the X-Files/UFO elements of DG are “outdated”… and I’m not sure I agree on that, either. The Grey/MJ-12 thing is only one small part of the game, and the fact that terrorists have replaced UFOs in the public landscape doesn’t mean that you can’t still use UFO mythology. It might be even more effective in a game, now, since we’re well past the X-Files boom.

In short: I don’t really see any problems in running Delta Green set in a modern U.S. – and if you do happen to have a problem, you can always set your game in pre-9/11 times. Problem solved. I’ve gotten the impression that a “New Millennium” DG sourcebook is one idea the writers have been bouncing around, so we might even get an “official” version of the “DG in 2000s” thing some day.

This is a truly excellent book, and its reputation of being one of the best game expansion books ever published is well-deserved. The amount of new, weird and disturbing ideas here is off the scale, it’s a magic blend of Cthulhu, film noir, Cold War spy stories, X-Files and many other ingredients. I can’t really recommend this book and game highly enough.

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