Sunday, January 19, 2014

Delta Green Fiction

In my last post I spoke a bit about Delta Green. After posting I realized that my familiarity with Delta Green is solely through RPG supplements and I was very unfamiliar with the Delta Green. To be honest, I have a tendency to avoid most "gaming fiction" - I read and enjoyed Dragonlance and Drizzt once upon a time but generally speaking I tend not to enjoy it. However, I was curious as to the Delta Green fiction so I asked around on the Call of Cthulhu RPG Google+ Community.The people there spoke very highly of the Delta Green fiction, even those who, like me, generally don't read RPG fiction. With that in mind I've obtained some ebooks of what seemed to be available and did some searching online to compile a list of what seems to be available in chronological order. After I finish the first anthology I'll post a review. However in the meantime I thought it might be worthwhile to share what I've been able to find.

Delta Green: Alien Intelligence. An anthology, out of print but available as a PDF from It appears to be the earliest published fiction available though I believe some may have been printed in The Unspeakable Oath magazine.

Delta Green: Rules of Engagement. A novel by John Tynes (who is one of the creators of Delta Green and wrote some fantastic material in Call of Cthulhu d20). This book is out of print though it can be found within Strange Anthologies (below). I've linked to the Amazon listing for this book which appears to have some copies at a decent price.

Delta Green: Dark Theaters. Another anthology. This one sounds interesting, what with covering the raid on Innsmouth that gave birth to Delta Green and covering the tragedy in Cambodia which cost them their official recognition. Sadly, also only available as PDF. (I much prefer eBook formats but hey...) It is listed as the third Delta Green book and it lists the novel Rules of Engagement (above) so I'm guessing I'm placing it correctly.

Delta Green: Denied to the Enemy. A novel by Dennis Detwiller, another of the creators of Delta Green. He also was a co-creator of the Superhero RPG game Godlike, a very gritty take on WWII superheroes. Denied to the Enemy is set during World War II and seems to have been originally published in 2002. The version I link to is to the Kindle version from Amazon. Right now it is available for only $0.99.

Delta Green: Through a Glass Darkly. Another Detwiller novel. And the covers have suddenly gotten creepier. The link is to the Kindle version, the physical version appears to be in print as well. First published in 2011. I'm very much unfamiliar with this one. Reading the description, it seems to be about a Delta Green case that starts of in January of 2001 and serves as a bridge from the "classic" Delta Green era of the 1990s to the more modern (2010s) era. Also from reading the reviews it seems this one is a lot less standalone than the previous ones with lots of references to other works,

Delta Greens: Strange Authorities. This collection by John Tynes contains both short stories and the novel Rules of Engagement. Two of the short stories can be found within Alien Intelligence and Dark Theater. Looking at the copyright dates of all of the stories it appears that all of these were written prior to Through a Glass Darkly.

So I'm going to be plunging through these pretty much blind. I'm actually looking forward to it. As I work through them (which can take from weeks to months to years I'd imagine knowing me) I'll add links to reviews that I make.

Flipping through them I find myself looking forward to the upcoming Delta Green RPG that is in development. As most of my experience with Delta Green is after 9/11/2001 one reason I've shied away from it is it has always appeared a bit dated. While culturally I view the 1990s with some fondness, one thing which seems clear to me is just how close the 1990s were to the 1920s - a pleasant-enough seeming decade on the surface with a number of problems that were soon to manifest themselves and set the tone for the decades which followed. I think of how much time we spent thinking about the government hiding UFOs and not worried about an economy headed for some extremely rough times and terrorists getting ready to attack US warships and crash planes into New York City and Washington, DC.

However, I'm finding myself curious about those works set in the 1990s and even more about those set earlier in Delta Green's history. My gaming group has wrapped up its fourth Call of Cthulhu session in our current campaign and its becoming clear that I need a stronger framework to bind the characters together and direct them to their cases. With the game set in Arkham, Massachusetts in the summer of 1928 it seems a proto-Delta Green organization might take an interest in our band of investigators.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Alternate Mythos Lenses

HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos have had an influence on various forms of entertainment. Many episodes of Doctor Who and Star Trek have had a Lovecraftian feel to them. The early Tom Baker episodes of Doctor Who with stories like Pyramids of Mars, Horror of Fang Rock, and Talons of Weng-Chiang have many elements to be found in the Cthulhu Mythos, like ancient aliens, god-like beings visiting the Earth, etc. Star Trek had references to the Old Ones placed by Robert Bloch in What Are Little Girls Made Of and many episodes dealt with the remnants of previous interstellar empires - the Iconians, known as "Demons of Air and Darkness" come especially to mind.

And looking at the Mind Flayers of Dungeons and Dragons one cannot help but find influences from Lovecraft.

What I've found rather interesting is those settings which go beyond mere influence from the Cthulhu Mythos but embrace their cosmos in its entirety yet put their own unique perspective on them.

One of the best known is the Delta Green setting as published by Pagan Publishing. It takes as its starting point the US Government's raid on Innsmouth, Massachusetts in 1928. The premise is after being made aware of alien beings such as the Deep Ones, would the government simply forget about the whole thing? In the Delta Green setting the answer to this is no. In the aftermath of World War II this organization becomes official as Delta Green. However, it runs afoul of a rival government organization, Majestic-12. Eventually it is disbanded but nevertheless continues to exist as a conspiracy within the US government working against the Cthulhu Mythos. It has a very 1990s "the truth is out there" feel, though it actually slightly predated The X-Files by a year (confession - The X-Files is one of those bits of popular culture that I just never could quite get into). Characters in a Delta Green campaign are working against the Mythos from various organizations within the government, working in cells and unaware of who else might be in the organization. Though a new incarnation is being worked on by Pagan Publishing which will be its own RPG (currently it is realized as fiction and supplements to the Call of Cthulhu RPG) in which in the post-9/11 world Delta Green regains its official status within the government.

Another lens that goes even farther is Charles Stross' Laundry Files. Now technically it isn't fully in the cosmos as created by HP Lovecraft, but it is in one extremely close to it. To quote Stross:
The Laundryverse is not exactly the Lovecraftverse; HPL himself is going to show up as a character in a future story (and be seen to be a dangerously flawed correspondent).
This setting has many of the mainstays of the Chulhu Mythos. You've got your Deep Ones (which have signed a treaty with humanity, though most of humanity is unaware of this). Nyarlathotep is out there. And you've got your mad cultists and evil sorcerers. The big addition is that of computational demonology. Basically, magic spells aren't really magic, they are advanced mathematical equations that can connect universes, perform summonings, provide protection, etc. This is very much in keeping with the science fiction aspect of Lovecraft's writings and in accordance with Clarke's Law of any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic. While in the past your sorcerer might pour over tomes for decades to learn how to cast a spell, an app on your smartphone can do the job far easier and far faster. Many computer scientists and mathematicians get pulled into the world of computational demonology, where some program or theorem they develop accidentally alters reality. The Laundry is a part of the British Civil Service, an odd crossover of The Office, Delta Green, and the works of John le Carré. Agents of the Laundry are must deal both with bureaucracy and the Old Ones. There's a sort of dark humor to this. Cubicle 7 has published The Laundry RPG along with several supplements. It uses a form of Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System, the same system which powers Call of Cthulhu.

Chaosium itself has published Cthulhu Invictus, a take on the Cthulhu Mythos at the time of the early Roman Empire. While the Mythos are largely unchanged, the society is very different. This is not a civilization that has a difficult time believing in the supernatural. Richard Tierney's stories about the sorcerer Simon Magus, who appeared in the Acts of the Apostles, are set during this era. This setting offers many possible frameworks, such as citizens of Palestine, self-interested sorcerers, Roman soldiers facing the Mythos, etc.

This is just scratching the surface of some of the lenses that have been used to view the Mythos - should time and inclination point in that direction, I'd like to go deeper into these and others at a point in the future (heck I'd like to run a game in all of these I've listed here...(

Friday, January 17, 2014

Having a Long-Term Relationship with the Old Ones

The Call of Cthulhu RPG has a reputation for extreme mortality. If you don't die you're pretty much doomed to go insane.

The rules certainly allow for this to happen. Even without adding the supernatural your character is rather fragile. He or she has about 12 hit points. Almost any firearm can kill an investigator with a single hit (sometimes requiring a critical). As of the 6th edition you can only dodge once per round so if your foes gang up on you you're pretty much doomed. Add to it supernatural beings and you become aware of just how fragile your character is. And then you've got the danger of going insane. It doesn't take much to drive an investigator at least temporarily insane.

Reading on various gaming forums you 'd get the idea that your typical character can last but a single adventure or two. I mentioned previously that this uncaring fragile heroism nevertheless gives the game a certain heroism. However, I also have found that the genre is absolutely compatible with long-term play.

First, let us take a look at the mechanics and a history of published adventures from the game. Clearly a character is fragile and one who frequently gets into fights without maximizing the odds is doomed. Indeed, even with extreme caution bad luck can spell doom for an investigator. I find this vulnerability is very much in keeping with the genre. However, a lot of caution goes a long way. Do your research. Do more research. Get all the facts you can. Don't fight fair. Better yet, don't get into a fight.

Looking at published adventures one can see the advantages of a long-term campaign. Chaosium's Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express are two famous examples of long-term campaigns. I've only recently received the draft of Horror on the Orient Express so I'll look more at Masks. Without spoiling it for those unfamiliar with the adventure, it is a global campaign against Nyarlathotep, with the investigators facing various incarnations of Nyarlathotep's cult across the globe. There are supernatural foes aplenty, but many of them fall short of horrors that can kill an investigator in a single round. And when one meets such a horror the best advice is not to fight it.

This isn't to suggest that such campaigns - or even individual adventures - should be easy. The genre really demands a true sense of danger. Does the genre support the possibility of long-term survival? The answer is, "it depends".

Many of Lovecraft's tales deal with a doomed protagonist who is presumed to end his life after telling his horrid tale or to plunge into insanity or some similar fate. This is largely what Pelgrane Press has referred to as Purist play.

However, Lovecraft also has protagonists who triumph against, or at least survive, their encounters with the Mythos. Henry Armitage survives The Dunwich Horror and Randolph Carter appears in several tales. I think this quote from Lovecraft serves as a good reminder that his universe is not a hostile one but rather an uncaring one:
Contrary to what you may assume, I am not a pessimist but an indifferentist— that is, I don’t make the mistake of thinking that the… cosmos… gives a damn one way or the the other about the especial wants and ultimate welfare of mosquitoes, rats, lice, dogs, men, horses, pterodactyls, trees, fungi, dodos, or other forms of biological energy.