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: The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man (Call of Cthulhu)

The Dreamlands is a part of the greater “Cthulhu Mythos” which hasn’t received all that much attention up to now. Sure, there is a sourcebook for it, and some other minor things, but it’s still very much in the fringe. Which is fitting, in a way, since it was also in the fringe of Lovecraft’s work, and was expanded by other authors, each lending their own style to the whole. At times, depictions of the Dreamlands (both fiction and game) were more in the sword & sorcery genre than horror. That’s not a bad thing as such, it’s just… different.

And then there’s this new work, The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man, a huge Dreamlands campaign written (and illustrated!) by Dennis Detwiller. It’s the first large Dreamlands-based CoC campaign, and it’s also excellent. It took a while to see the light of day; it would probably still be sitting in Dennis’ project pile if not for Kickstarter, which provided funding for making this a reality (I was one of the backers). I was expecting it to be good, based on Dennis’ earlier works, but the end result was even better than I was expecting. I’d love to try to run this, even though it’s somewhat challenging.

The game setup is somewhat unusual. The PCs are all opium addicts in 1920s New York, meeting at their dealer’s residence. Things escalate, and eventually the PCs find themselves in the Dreamlands. By default their main drive would be to escape, but it’s possible that some PCs may have (or gain) other motives, perhaps dark ones. It’s not like these people are the cream of humanity to begin with.

Why is this book good? Because it brings the Dreamlands to life in a way I haven’t seen before. It feels like a coherent whole, while keeping a fantastic and somewhat whimsical feel, with a very dark undercurrent. There’s horror here, mixed in with the fantastic. I also like this campaign because it’s very much structured as a sandbox, giving the PCs vast freedoms in how they might proceed. I can see five different games of this playing out very differently from each other, based on player choices. There is also a larger plot in the background, but there is extremely little railroading after the initial setup.

Of course, a sandbox campaign set in a vast realm of dreams means that only some locations and events are described, so the GM will have to improvise quite a bit. While the book is big, and the locations it covers are all wonderfully evocative, it still only scratches the surface of the Dreamlands. This, of course, makes this campaign a bit challenging to run, at least potentially. There is also the question of replacement PCs; while the Dreamlands isn’t all about horror and going insane, there are plenty of spots where the PCs may end up very, very dead and player in need of a replacement. Due to the setting, this requires a bit of tinkering from the GM, but the book does some suggest some obvious spots where new characters could join the party. In some other places, it may need some extra suspension of disbelief… but on the other hand, this is the Dreamlands we’re talking about. Strange coincidences and matters of fate can be fitted in, while keeping the tone intact.

The campaign is fantastic, the art is great, and it’s available. Go get it.

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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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