Category Archives: Structure

Running a Delta Green-Campaign – Part Nine

In the ninth installment I will deal with how I construct missions for my campaign (preceding posts are here). I have earlier covered how we play, the rules we play with – or by – and the trouble I have with the published scenarios, so now it is time to take a look at how I create missions.

The missions are briefly covered in these two posts:

At present we are well into the third season. Each season consists of six episodes, and in the two posts particular components can be seen.

Structure

Since each episode follows a certain structure, I can sort of focus on filling out the blanks in the schema, and it allows me also to break the model once in a while making sure, that things are never quite the same. The basic structure is Inital Talk (between GM and players on tonights play), Call to Mission (A Night at the Opera), Relation Scenes, Gathering the Agents and Initial Briefing, The Case (investigation, confrontation, denouement) and Finishing Play (debriefing, side plots, XP, consequences, next time etc.). But first my prep:

Filling out the blanks

Well it always begin with some sort of idea. Something I want to infiltrate with the mythos. It can be news story of some sort, a particular scene or phenomenon, or it may theres a monster or some other lovecraftian element, that I want to include.

Next I generally jot down the next sequences, notes on the clues picked up, and what it is for a mystery, that the agents are confronted with. I reflect a bit on the theme and how scenes can be constructed to reflect the theme.

From the View of the Audience

I structure the episode viewed from the angle of the players. So instead of writing a back story or some sort of write up, I begin the episode, where the characters begin. So how are they involved in the mission?

Now compared to the published module, there is an absence of several pages of back story. Anything that the players will not be able to learn, or that is otherwise not experienced by the players. If is not a part of the shared fiction, it does not exist.

A Night at the Opera

An X-files, a Supernatural og a Fringe episode begins commonly with some occurrence of a fantastic nature that causes the demise of some persons, and that becomes the basic of this weeks episode. However from the view of the characters, Mulder and Scully, The Winchester Boys, Olivia and The Bishops, this is not where the story begins. For the story begins at two different places for the audience and the characters, and unless you play the victim opening-scene (which can easily be played), you have to start the scenario at the same place for both characters and players. For the same reason this is where I start the scenario-text, as the preceding details are outside the reach the players.

  • One player receives the invitation for A Night at the Opera, that usually presents the basic information, and informs the characters, where they need to appear for their briefing.
  • The player as his character invites the remainder of his cell. Some times we talk about the characters taking days off, going on vacation, overseas jobs and how they excuse themselves from their family.
  • Then we usually play The Relation-scenes. These scenes often takes place between the Invitation and arriving at the briefing.

The Briefing

This is the easy part. Here all the information, that needs to be presented for the characters to begin their mission is introduced. This is usually some sort of briefing from their DG-handler or a friendly, who has picked up some strange clue, that they recognize as being within the jurisdiction of DG.

  • In general it is an Exposition-scene. It contains a the list of initial clues, NPCS and places to go.
  • Any special rules for the mission are also presented (“enemy agents will be present, so you must operate in secret” etc.)

The Case

Off we go. The players visit various scenes and locales, they interview people and pick up strange things at the crime scenes etc.

  • Clues are automatically available, but often come with some sort of price; a skill check is used to determine how long it takes, whether or not opposition arrives or guards are alerted etc.
  • Descriptions are play an important role. Weather, buildings, nature, seasons, and the mood constantly play a role. They are sort of my character in the game, and I spend time describing these things. Often as a contrast to the PCs or to emphasize theme and subject of the mission.
  • Splitting up the party. Most of the time the PCs are split up into pairs, and unless it is part of the mission or the monsters powers, the characters are more or less constantly in touch with each others.
  • Exchanging information and musing on the mysteries is a central element in the campaign, as it is the weirdness and the alien phenomena dealt with by the agents. We therefore focus on the agents dealing with the mysteries and their responses to the mysteries, rather than on the players figuring the riddle. The players can thus focus on roleplaying their agents’ responses to the Mythos.

Often the mysteries are just weird or almost meaningless, and we instead see the characters dealing with and trying to contain the threat to the public.

Episodes are based on a series locales, events or situations, but rarely I bother with establishing how they are connected. Often there is a simple logic to it, or one occurs as we play, sometimes the players create the connection.

Open Ended

An additional element in the fluid structure of the missions comes from the fact, that the players can pay spend 5 sanity points to create new facts that supercedes my plot. This creates connections in the plot in ways, that makes sense to the players and allows them to solve the plot in unforseen ways.

Two Sessions and The Dramatic Arc

Most misions lasts two sessions. In a tv-episode, in a movie or in a comic etc. the events follows a dramatic arc intensifying the story as it progresses. Same goes for roleplaying.

For the scenarios each session has its own dramatic arc, meaning that a mission has multiple dramatic arcs. In order to shape the events proper, I replan the missions ever so slightly between sessions, so that each session has its own dramatic arc independently of what happened during the game. In other words whereever we stop the game, the next session has its own arc.

Most often sessions end at some suitable place, either at a cliff hanger or just after the dramatic moment has been resolved, and there is a quiet moment.

Preplanning and Buying Missions

Even though I have a catalogue of ideas for missions, I do not create any episodes ahead, nor do I have a preplanned storyline. It is tempting to preplan a series of missions, but I want to shape the campaign directly on the events of the previous episode, and Í want the players to be able to shape the campaign by buying episodes, which on purpose makes it difficult to preplan, but more importantly it allows the players to choose stories, that they find interesting. Furthermore these episodes put the characters in focus, as they happens to not just be episodes, that interests the player, but episodes that one way or the other is about the characters. Bought missions often tie in with the sideplots either directly or thematically, making them even more relevant to the players.

Tying episodes together

Even though I do not plan ahead, I do tie the episodes together. I have AP reports (on my Danish blog), that I can mine for details – names, places, events – and then reintroduce in later episodes. Sometimes I drop names or events into a scenario simply in order to recycle them later. They grow in a retroactive manner, and even though an NPC is killed in one episode, does not mean that person cannot reappear in some manner, for instance thorugh a friend or relative investigating the death of the NPC.

Since retrocactive design is the design principle I can later make sense of things, that weird or inexplicable in one episode. Futhermore taking one episode at a time mean, that I can develop the parts of the plot, that caught the interest of the players the most.


[Fading Suns] Leminkainen Crisis – Characters and Structure

I have begun planning my next campaign to replace my present Delta Green-campaign, that is entering its endgame. The Fading Suns-campaign will be The Leminkainen Crisis.

The Basics: Emissaries for a bishop on the capitol world of Byzantium Secundus become involved in a campaign to regain territories lost on Leminkainen to the barbarian Vuldroks, and soon the emissaries find themselves deeply involved in a series of crises that originates from the campaign. The players’ main role are the emissaries, and they have to deal with crises, that are based on inspiration from social conflicts from the Middle Ages. The players will also play a secondary character and a faction leader.

Characters

The players will playing three different characters. The primary and the secondary character, and a faction leader.

The Main Character – this is more a or less a basic character from the FS-setting. The campaign will be structured around these characters, and they will be the classic nobles, priests and guildsmen from the major houses, orders and guilds. They will begin the campaign on Byzantium Secundus, either born there or travelled from some other part. None will be natives of Leminkainen.

The Secondary Character – this is a supporting role, that in part will reflect the hierarchic, feudal elements of the setting by being followers or assistants to the main character. They are loyal henchmen played by the players themselves. In part it is also to give the players access to resources (types of skills etc.), that are outside the reach of their main characters, and it allows us to split up the party, as the players can use their secondary characters in situations, where their primary cannot go.

The Faction Leader – Several factions are involved in the campaign on Leminkainen, and even though they are allied, they may not agree on goals and methods. As I present a crisis for the players’ characters to deal with, I also involve some of the factions. After the first couple of sessions, the players will also be given a faction leader, whose interests they will be handling as a part of the crisis. The faction leaders may either oppose og support the PCs as the situation dictate. In other words the players get to complicate the situation for themselves as part of the game, in a sense they co-GM some parts of the game.

The Structure

The campaign will be structured around a series of crises, that will last 1-3 sessions to solve. Each crisis represents some sort of political situation that occurs, and that the PCs will have to solve. There is correct way of solving the crisis, and it mainly depends on the PCs choices: Which solutions and which methods will be acceptable for the PCs (and thus indirectly the players) in solving the crisis?

The structure can be described as the difference between Dogs in the Vineyard and a D&D-campaign. In a D&D-campaign is not uncommon, that when a crisis occurs, the local lord summons the adventurers and sends them to the local dungeon to defeat the orgin of the crisis: The harvest fails and the king hires an adventuring party to find the source. They go to the local dungeon, defeats the orcs and finds clues, that reveal the curse of a lich to be the cause. The adventurers goes to the next dungeon to find a way to lift the curse and then they go to a dungeon to defeat the lich. The crisis creates a series of tasks to be solved by looting a series of dungeons. In Dogs in the Vineyard the PCs are sent to a town in trouble due moral or ethical transgressions. The PCs have find a fitting solution to the ethical dilemma.

So in this campaign a crisis may be a failed harvest, and the players will have to deal with starving peasants. Where will food be gained from? By raiding neighbors, by asking the church to abstain from receiving its tithe, by negotiating a deal with the freigther’s guild? Is the failed harvest due to the peasants behaving in a immoral manner, and should they be brought to repent, before any assistance is given? Or is the failed harvest caused by demons?

The point is to investigate how the characters will solve the crisis, and which methods they will find acceptable. The frame will be historical situations/elements, such the use of sacred bones to support the mission, that I will deal with in a later post.


What are the Roles of the Master?

A short while ago Larp Musing linked to Mailed Fist’s post on ‘What is Roleplaying?‘, and is there something, that many a roleplayer has a strong opinion of or can debate endlessly about, then it is the question “what is roleplaying?”. Usually I prefer the simple explanation, that roleplaying is a medium akin to theater, literature, movies etc., and that we can tell stories with it, and that roleplaying can be art, just as books, movies, and comics can be art.

Now Donjon Master at Mailed Fist wants to give a description of what roleplaying at the table is, and he focuses on the process of the interaction between GM and player, a perspective which is addressed by Larp Musing, as the many of the assignments handled by the GM at the table are absent in larps – at least in the particular role described by Donjon Master at Mailed Fist.

Right now I am prepping the games I will be playing at upcoming roleplaying convention, Fastaval, during Easter, and the different scenarios requires different approaches to how I will be game mastering. Each scenario assigns specific jobs for the GM, ans these do not quite match those Donjon Master describes. Before dealing with the roles of the GM in the four scenarios, I will briefly present the scenarios.

The Four Things I Will Be Game Mastering This Easter

Ikea

A low key comedy about everyday life, where we follow four pairs of people (chosen from some 11 different pairs) shopping in Ikea. Ikea in this sense acts as a frame for each pair’s problems. Each pair consist of one A-role and one B-role, and each player will be playing an A-role in one pair and a B-role in one another pair, and the action shifts between the four pairs, and during the intermezzos the players through their characters acts as extras commenting of the story of the other players. As a part of the scene-setting the players use an actual Ikea-catalogue.

Leaves of Fate

This story takes place in 1901 just after the death of a noble woman, and we follow her four heirs – the husband, the lover, the son and the sister – and they are a unpleasent bunch, but from beyond her grave she gives them a chance to redeem themselves, thus winning the inheritance, but this require them to admit their crime against her and to strive to better themselves. The communication is handled through an actual ouija-board used as a mechanic in the game, and the players through their characters ask questions and constructs answers to shape the story.

A Heart of Metal

A metal-version of the opera Tannhäuser, where we follow the metal-pot Granhøj, his muse, his girlfriend and his rival. He is struggling to succeed as an artist. The curious thing in this one is,t hat the roles rotate among the players at the command of the GM, and that the scenes can be done over again and again from different perspectives.

The scenario is accompanied by a metal soundtrack.

Scrapbook

A woman is lost in her fantasy of the ideal life. The story begins and ends with her kidnapping of a small child and her hiding at a motel. In between the events that drove her to insanity are played out with the players using a scrapbook. Scenes switch between rosy red and dull grey, as they are either her dream life, where things are good, or her real life, where things are not as good. The game moves in a non-linear fashion through the events switching between her fantasy-version, that can constantly be retold, as it is only something she imagines, and reality, that can only be played once, since harsh reality is not malleable.

Game Mastering

Common for all four scenarios, that I will be running:

  • Begin with instructing the players as to how the game is played
  • Demonstrate the rules
  • Establish the genre.

Ikea

  • Pacing and cutting the scenes between the four pairs
  • Leave the scene-setting to the players
  • if a scene is loosing momentum, then introduce the other players playing minor characters

Leaves of Fate

  • Have the players describe location and mood. Do this by asking leading questions to the players during the scenes
  • Set the scenes, once the players have briefly established the situation
  • Play the extras (the priest, the lawyer, the staff) – they are only present briefly at the start
  • Explain the players the general events in each act and scene
  • Assist at the Ouija-board, especially if the players are out of ideas

Scrapbook

  • Frame the Monologue
  • Set the first scene
  • Have the players set the next scenes
  • Frame the Epilogue
  • Play extras if needed

A Heart of Metal

  • Set the scenes, describe the setting
  • Reframe and re-set the scenes
  • Rotate the characters between the players
  • Change the music from scene to scene

Now comparing this to Donjon Masters presentation of the game master’s functions, there are some interesting differences. Only in A Heart of Metal will I be describing the characters’ perception of the situation. Mostly the players will not be describing to me as the GM, what they are doing. Instead they will act out or describe to each other, what their characters are doing, and finally I will in general just nod and say yes to the players’ choices. The scenarios are all structured freeform, and thus there will be no mechanic to determine the outcome, and at most I will be final arbitrator, if there is any doubt as to what is going to happen.


Running a Delta Green-Campaign – Part Seven

Welcome to the seventh post about running a Delta Green-campaign. I have covered most aspects of my campaign in the preceding six posts, and covered some subjects in greater detail in separate posts (such as my three posts about the players playing multiple characters and NPCs). We have been playing for about 1½ year by now, and the campaign is divided up into seasons and episodes in the same manner as tv-shows.

First season is covered in this post, and second season here. We are playing the third season right now – and in this post, I will try to describe how we play. Something that is not as easy as presenting a summary of a session or a description of the rules.

Playstyles

As is evident with the old school-movement, there are several ways to play, and various rule systems supports the different playstyles in their own manner. For instance this campaign is not a sandbox-game, neither is it a game, that focuses on the players’ abilities to solve puzzles – so no handouts (but I have discussed investigation in-depth here).

  • No maps, no handouts, no puzzles
  • Personal drama, lots of in-character play between the players dealing with their characters’ personal lives
  • Few die rolls
  • Splitting up the party and playing NPCs
  • Listening to the others play

This is How We Play

An important element is, that we are charting the decline of the characters as they confront the mythos. It is therefore important, that we get to see them from their human side. We spend time playing their everyday civilian life in between the missions (as described in detail here), and the lethality of the missions is fairly low. Large, lethal critters are not often used, as they will in one go, accomplish what we are building up slowly, the death or madness of the agents.

Furthermore we often split up the agents, and the action continuously shifts between the players, and they listen in on each others’ play. We play without secrets. The players also do not always play their own characters. For some sessions they play one or more NPCs solely, and in other sessions they shift between their own characters and their NPC-roles.

When to Roll Dice

First, I hardly roll any dice at all. At most I roll a few attack rolls, but otherwise all die rolls are done by the players. In a sense the system assumes, that opponents succeed their rolls, and that it all boils down to, whether the characters succeed or not.

Secondly rolling dice are tied to the economy of the system. There more often the players roll, the more often they may fail, and when they fail, they begin to spend resources on flipflops introducing their characteristics or spend their rerolls, they earn by risk failing their rolls.

Flipflops and Rerolls earned by risking failure described here.

Third dice are rolled, when I ask for them. I ask for die rolls, when I sense, that the players want to have their characters accomplish a certain goal. It is not much different from the “say yes or roll dice”-approach, but it does mean, that there are no preplanned die rolls as is common in many published modules (e.g. “a succesful fast talk og credit rating grants the investigators access to the office”), instead when I sense the players wants the character to accomplish something, I ask for a roll of some sort. Usually not a specific skill, but instead I invite the player to suggest, which skill is relevant, and then I make the final decision.

The interpretation of the skill checks is usually done from a positive angle, so success is described as success, but also so that failures are described as successes, albeit incomplete, or that is foiled by the opponent.

Failures push the situation

Failed rolls usually opens up for new situation, that requires a new roll. While chasing a foe, a failed jump between to buildings, results in the character hanging from the edge, and a another failed roll can lead to the character begin falling, but rather that the character takes so long to climb back up, so that the enemy gets away. For example a failed research roll results in slowed or delayed research, not in failing to get the clue.

The consequence of playing in this manner is, that the flow of events are shaped by the dice creating a series of events, where we have exactly no idea of what will happen, until the know the outcome.

In regular roleplaying characters fail a lot, look at the skill values of an average CoC-investigator, and if the skills are not used to describe areas of expertise, they become values it is hard to roll a successfully for often (for a further discussion of this, I recommend Robin Laws discussion on Gumshoe and it success-economy here, and even more relevant the forthcoming Spending, Hoarding, and GUMSHOE-article by Laws).

Failure is sometimes just failure here, but more often it introduces either a complexity (delays the results of the research), or it sets up an either/or-situation, where neither GM nor players know, what will happen, until the dice hit the table. Instead of many checks we have a few checks, and we strive to set them up as either/or-checks: “When stealing evidence from the crime-scene, will you be noticed?”. In both cases the character gets the evidence, but it becomes a matter of the complication, and often the situation is formulated, so the player knows what is at risk. It is not “if you attempt to steal the evidence, then roll a stealth-check”, nor is it “as you steal the evidence, make a stealth-check”.

Setting them up as clear “either/or” and as “complications” failures cease to block play. A failed Lock Smith-check does not mean, that the door remains unlocked, but rather that the attempt is alerts the guards or that it leaves markings, that will be noticed the next morning.

Combat

It is not much different from a series skill checks except damage is being dealt. The system is rather fluid, and constructed over a series of skill checks.

Let me begin with an example:

  • GM: “As you approach the guard, he draws his gun, and starts to aim it at you. What do you do?”
  • Player #1: “I step forward as I try to knock him out”
  • GM: “Okay, roll your attack skill”
  • Player #1 rolls, “succes”. GM: How much damage?”, #1 “13″
  • GM: “Good, you jump forward, knocks him back, and you see him stagger backwards, falling over. He is still armed, and trying to aim his gun at you. What now?”
  • #1: “I jump at him, trying to knock his gun from him.”
  • GM: “Good, roll your attack skill.”
  • #1: “I failed.”
  • GM: “Can you flipflop it, or do you want to spend a reroll?”
  • #1: “No, I am out of rerolls, and even if I flipflop, it is a failure.”
  • GM” Okay, as you jump forward, he fires”, rolls dice, “30 dmg, the shot hits you hard, pain and adrenaline rushes through your body, as you land heavily on him, you knock his gun from him and it slides along the floor.” Turns to the other player, “as you see your friend knock the guard back, but the guard draws and fires, heavily wounding your friend, before his gun is knocked away. What do you do?”

As you can see from the example, there are no initiative, no clear turn structure, as combat is instead of connected skill checks, where the players takes turn acting and sometimes the a player takes several turns in a row. The are not any specific maneuvers, no disarm-action for instance, no multiple attacks, instead the player chooses an action, dice are rolled, and I describe what happens, setting up a new situation based on the outcome of the roll and the chosen action. This keeps pushing the action.

Pushing the scene is a central feature, and it removes a classic element of many RPGS’s, where the players’ actions are reduced to a series of almost mindless attack-rolls, as they attempt to wither away their opponents’ hit points.

And this is how we use the system, which is a hybrid of CoC and Unknown Armies mixed with a lot of house rules tailored to support the themes of the campaign.

Next up: My trouble with published DG-scenarios.


[Delta Green] Episode Guide – Season 2

Welcome to second season of our Delta Green-campaign. The Hoarfrost Dragon-campaign is episodic in its structure. Each mission is thought of as an episode in a tv-show, and the events in each episode plays out in a certain order with the agents receiving an invitation for their next misison etc.

First season is described here.

In this post I will present second season of the campaign. Presently we have finished first episode of season three, so it will be a while before I can summarise that season.

Second Season

Episode 7: Dirty Jobs

One pair of agents removes a body for an influential ally of DG, and the other pair goes looking for a mission agent from episode four. They discover that he has become a ghoul, and they eliminate him.

  • Phenomenon: Ghouls (reference to episode four)
  • One Session
  • Playing NPCs: Secondary Cast

Episode 8: So Big and Green the Forest is

Following a series of clues from episode one, four and six an agent goes on a rogue mission to look for a sorcerer. Instead they discover a trapped Lloigor, that is attempting to break free from the lake it is bound to, and after trapping it anew, one agent stumbles across a fold in time (which they heard about in mission one).

Episode 9: Dolphin Birth

The agents stumbles upon a girl, who is transforming into a Deep One. She kidnaps her own child and they track her back to a desolate town in Louisiana, where the Deep Ones reign. The agents flee the town after killing the girl and leaves it to DG to clean out the Deep One infestation.

Episode 10: The House on the Heath

The agents investigates the downing of two spy satellites, since this has activate an old Air force UFO-project, that was allegedly closed down. As they look for the satellites and the project, they encounter the source of the crashing of the satellites – an ancient Serpent Man Sorcerer keeping a ‘window’ in the sky, so he can look at Cassiopeia, and anything that interferes with this is downed.

  • Phenomenon: Serpent Man Sorcerer and his magic window to the stars
  • Relations
  • One Session, Story Arc (references)
  • Equipment

Episode 11: Black Santas, White Snow

One agent receive a call from help from another cell. Then all contact is lost, and the characters are mobilised. They investigate the lost cells case – chasing down an immortal, serial killing book collector – when they encounter roving bands of madmen dressed up as demonic santas due to the malign influence of the play The King in Yellow (Christmas-edition).

The agents stop the play, retrieves the text and two agents goes into hiding – where one reads the text, goes mad, and it ends with a terrible showdown between the two interrupted at the last moment by the appearance of a third character.

  • Phenomenon: The King in Yellow-play is being staged, and its malign influence is drives people crazy.
  • Two sessions, Christmas episode
  • Relations
  • Sideplot
  • Special: First session began with the reading of The Pnakotic Manuscript

Episode 12: Where Few Set Their Foot (Season finale)

The agents receive replacements for their lost members, and both cells are now complete. They therefore cease working together and instead they go on different missions at the same time. One cell investigates Owlshead Mountain since data from the satellite (ep10) reveals “UFO-activity”. During the investigations one character is struck down and ends up in coma – the episode ends with the character in coma.

The other cell investigates two mysterious murders on behalf of a friendly, and they confront an ancient Cthonic-worshipping sorcerer, while one character is being investigated for corruption. Just as they finish their mission, they receive an urgent mission, as the satellite they retrieved earlier is compromised, and they must get it back.

  • Phenomenon: Mi-go servant guards ancient Mi-go site on which the evil conspiracy wants to build a research facility.
  • Phenomenon: Ancient sorcerer worshiping Cthonians.
  • Two sessions (story arc: Men in Black)
  • Relations
  • Sideplot
  • Threat Level 2
  • Playing NPCs: Other agents
  • Guest player
  • Special: The plot with the Mi-go servant is a version of A Night on Owlshead Mountain from DG: Eyes Only
  • Special: The other mission is structurally an alternate take on episode 10.

Running a Delta Green-Campaign – Part Six

Now comes the turn to the characters. I like it, when the individual characters how they own specific interests and missions in a campaign. This naturally works best, when the characters remain consistent, and you therefore need to keep the level of lethality down (how we keep the CoC less lethal & how you easily can threaten the characters with other consequences than death).

This is the sixth post in my series about running a DG-campaign, and I have earlier covered elements such as Developing the Cosmology and Reading Books, The Specialized House Rules and Investigation. Now we turn to look at the characters.

Characters in the Beginning

Each player develops their characters through play. They therefore begin with a minimal back story, and we develop it during the game. One of our most powerful tools to do this is the Relation-scenes, and the fact that we focus the game on the investigators, not the investigation.

Two things are created at the start of a new characters career: 1) Three persons, that are meaningful relations to the character, and 2) threats to the character’s continued career.

Threats

Death and insanity are two obvious threats against a character’s presence in a campaign. Once your out of hit points or sanity points, your character is out, and you have to create a new one. Yet – as I have argued before – there are many more things to threaten a character with than death, and several of these are often more fun, because should the character fail, he will live with the consequences, whereas a dead character, though suffering the consequences does not have to live with them. It makes for quite a difference.

Secondly the source of alternate threats cannot always be dealt as easily with – for instance most scenarios assume, that you strive to defeat, kill and banish those things, that threaten your physical or mental existence, but if the threat to your career comes from your character’s spouse, then new solutions must be found.

With the Threat-rule each character possesses three types of threats. Two are chosen by the player, and the third originates in the campaign, and is most likely created by the GM and it applies to all the characters.

Types of Threats

Even though we are working with three types of threats on the character sheet, there actually four types, and these I will cover here. Threats are also described in this post.

Type 1: Threats against Myself (Inner (Personal) Threat)

These threats are personal weaknesses of the characters, that can threaten their ability to remain an agent of Delta Green. This might be subjects such as alcoholism, depression, pride or something else all together. The player picks something, that he or she would like to be confronted with at any time during the campaign as the GM sees fit. If the player chooses to give in to the threat, the player risks the character being booted from DG resulting in the player rolling up a new character. The character may not be dead, but he is not a part of the campaign either.

Type 2: Threats against my Membership (Inner (Social) Threat)

These threats come from the characters surroundings, and must be dealt with at a social level. These are as such not necessarily negative, they just threaten the character’s ability to continue battling the Mythos. Family might be one, where the character will have to resign simply in order to care for his family, or career, where a promotion might make it impossible to go into the field again. Basically anything in your daily life, that make it impossible to continue battling the Mythos can be added here, and as with type one threats GM may activate the threat at any time during the campaign, and the threat can easily be foreshadowed, e.g. one character is a single dad with three teen daughters. I remind the player of his character’s daughters, when they call him up during a mission, because they need their father. These calls do not necessarily have to happen, when he is sneaking around or in some other stressed situation. Sometimes a call from them, when he is sitting alone in a motel room does it.

Type 3: Threats against The Team (External Threat)

This is the recurring enemy in the campaign. In the Hoarfrost Dragon-Campaign it is The Men in Black (or Project Blue Book-agents as they recently have become known by the players). They were introduced by me. After their first appearance, I told the players that these agents would be their recurring foe, and they wrote them down in the space for the type three enemy.

Type 4: Threat of the Day (External Threat)

Like each episode of X-files or Fringe contains a monster or mad scientist or something like it, so does each mission contain an enemy. Since this threat changes in each episode, there is no reason for the players to a have a box on their sheet to write the enemy down. So though the category exist, and it is useful for the GM to work with, it is not used by the players.

Flagging the Character

In forge-speak the first and the second threat are flags. Elements chosen by the player pointing to where, he wants his character to be challenged. The player cannot choose not to have a type 1 or type 2 threat. Instead the player chooses where the GM can screw with the character, and this also allows the player to have some elements of the character to remain undisturbed. If you do not want a certain of conflict, then do not pick it.

Sideplot

Since each mission is shaped as an episode, that typically lasts two sessions, we are playing each mission along a specific structure. There are certain mandatory scenes, such as the characters receiving their invitation to A Night at the Opera, then they play their Relation-scenes, and then they meet and are briefed on the particulars of the mission etc. This creates room for the players to state that their characters are caught up in their own projects. This usually comes after the mission is accomplished, and we are at the post-mission sequence – much like shows we a story arc makes some reveal in the last-minute of the show leaving the audience wondering.

Side-plots are small goals and quests, that arises in the intersection between missions and the agents’ private life (as seen through threats and relation-scenes), and quite interesting we really see some character development here, and often these sequences help us see the madness growing the character.

Generally they are purely improvised and consists of me “saying yes” and letting the players set the scenes and then going with it. One such sideplot was a character building a private Green Box in an old bomb shelter under his family’s countryside house. The most complex of these was build up during several missions, and were tied to the investigators threat type 1. Basically the character had become unhinged already during his pre-DG career suffering from some sort of PTSD, resulting in him believing that the ties to family and friends were the weakness of his fellow agents (rather than the source of his own callousness), and he wanted to “help” his fellow agents, so after a mission he and a large sniper rifle from a Green Box went missing – at this point he had run out of Decline Points, and had asked me, if I would delay the character’s demise, as he had an idea of his own. The player planned with another player a scene, where we see the insane agent lying hidden in a forest with the sniper rifle. In his target is the girl friend of the aforementioned single dad-character, and the goal is to kill her, so that agent will suffer a personal loss and thus become a more focused agent (yes, he was quite insane – though not through a loss of Sanity points, but as the consequence of combining Threat, Relation-scenes and events during the missions). As he is aiming at the woman, his fellow agent and confidante appears. She puts a gun next to his head, and asks him, what him what he intends. He explains his reasons, and refuses to listen to reasoning. She pulls the trigger, he dies.

A third agent has abandoned his faith, after his family abandoned him. Now he has begun to call out to the King in Yellow – and The King has begun to respond – and this came about on the initiative of the player. During one mission they confronted an “outbreak” of The King in Yellow, but managed to stop the play from infecting too many people. Afterwards the agent read the play out of curiosity – and on the sideline the player had played out a series of relation-scenes, where he broke his bonds with his family, as they had abandoned him – and these tow strands were combined into the character abandoning his faith and instead he began calling out to the King in Yellow, and as of the last mission the King has begun to respond …

Multiple characters

Each player has his own agent, and they have created several relation-NPCs, that are either played by the other players during the Relation-scenes, or by me during the missions, and then there are kinds of NPCs, that I relegate to the players to play. It often happens that not all agents are present during a mission, and I hand those players NPC-roles to play. This can be fellow agents or friendlies, that assist with the missions. Sometimes the friendly may be the source of the mission, and then that friendly briefs the Delta Green-agents.

At other times the player is given NPCs, that are the cause of troubles – for instance during one mission the player was given two different NPCs (a protester and a journalist), and instructed to trouble the DG-agents representing the civilians, the agents needs to deal with, while keeping the mission secret. When the NPCs would appear was governed by the player. In another episode one player and a guest player was given a list of NPCs, who each had a piece of the mystery, and they were tasked to introduce each NPC and create a scene, where the DG-agents could obtain information. The two players prepared a series of scenes, though where and when they would trigger, I as the GM did not know, so the DG-agents would investigate the town, and at various times they would encounter the NPCs, and the two players would play out a scene.

In a third episode the DG-agents went on two different missions, and the players were instructed, that we would shift to their agents, after the other agents had met and dealt with civilians. In other words the players could at any time introduce an NPC, whom the other agents would have to deal with (an inquisitive child, angry neighbors etc.), and then we would shift to their DG-agents, until the other players introduced an NPC. The game shifted back and forth with no trouble, but some quite interesting and entertaining scenes.

Multiple characters also have the advantage that I can add some extra lethality without killing a PC every time, and it allows the players to take a break from their own characters and try to play out some different roles.

Next up I will discuss how we play.

 


Running A Delta Green-Campaign – Part Five

In this fifth installment of my thoughts and praxis upon running a Delta Green-campaign, I will continue describing some of the things, that run in the background. In the fourth post I covered structure, episodes and story arc, and here I will again work with the background.

The Purpose of the Structure

The basic purpose is to shape the skeleton on to which the missions, themes and narratives can be attached to shape a whole campaign. Once the structure is in place, material begins to pop up by itself filling out blank spaces. The structure becomes a tool with which a grand tale can be told.

For us it is the tale of people sacrificing their lives in order to keep other people safe for those who live by the sword dies by the sword. It is a tragic story as each character will either be killed or corrupted, and all they can hope is that they made a difference.

The Cosmology

Take a show like Fringe or Babylon 5. In both of them we slowly learn about the cosmology, that govern the rules of the setting. Ultimately the core conflict of the show is tied into the cosmology, and the events become almost mythical as our protagonists take their roles in the ongoing struggle inherent in the cosmology. That is awesome.

In a show like X-files the cosmology is a lot messier. It changes and gets revised, but it is still important to the episodes and it is still the source of conflicts, and thusly episodes in the show.

There is also a grand something in Lovecrafts stories, and it is in part shared by other authors like Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, and it is later attempted to be codified by disciples as Derleth, and later again modified in the various incarnations of the Cthulhu-games (Call, Trail, Call d20, Delta Green), and it is not uncommon to see a scenario-author or a GM modifying a part of the cosmology to suit his or her campaign. This cosmology often becomes the source of missions, monsters, and mythos. Yet the story of how the things are rarely enters the game. In TV-shows and the written stories there is an obvious difference between, what the characters know and what the audience knows. As audience we see things, that the characters do not and vice versa. As roleplaying often tacitly assumes, that character knowledge and player knowledge is identical – or that the players abstain from using their knowledge – the driving force behind it all ends up remaining anonymous. There is no end to the back stories and descriptions of elder beings and horrendous gods I have read about in campaigns, rulebooks and scenarios, that never truly becomes available for the players, at least not during the game.

The Cosmology is the driving force. It creates reason as to why the Cthulhu Mythos is a threat and must be stopped. It is the tool with which the GM creates new missions, as the Cosmology spawns new conflicts. However the rules of the universe often remains hidden and unseen. Only an outsider like the audience can gain insight into the whole of the cosmology, as the audience is privy to more knowledge, than the characters in the stories.

Letting Cosmology into Play

And yet, I want the cosmology, the mysterious back story to be part of the game. I can present the players with an NPC, who happens to have just the right speech for them, or I can create a long hand out telling the story to the players or some such. In shows the audience gets little tidbits along the way, usually the last five minutes of the show, and often in the shape of cut aways, so what is revealed is information outside the reach of the protagonists. That too is a viable option, I could present the players with a cut to a scene, where the antagonist reveals his thoughts to his minion (and Star Wars d6 did employ something like it back in the days)

Reading Books

However we are dealing with a Lovecraftian campaign, and a stable element of a Call of Cthulhu-campaign are the books. Ancient tomes filled with strange tales, and reading these are an important element of the stories, and having the characters learn spells from them, earning Cthulhu Mythos Skill Points and loosing Sanity Points are important elements in the Call of Cthulhu-Game, but the process of reading the book is not important. I want to do that, and I want to use the reading of the books as a way to introduce the Cosmology.

How To Read A Book In Roleplaying

For me the approach is not to plan too heavily ahead. I have a catalogue of ideas, but I never plan more than the present episode – and to keep me from planning further episodes ahead, I have granted the players the right to buy the next mission, so their choices shape the flow of the campaign.

As I do not plan ahead, I also keep the cosmology vague and fluid. It adapts and remain consistent with earlier information, but it does not guide the coming episodes of the campaign, and the cosmology is not tied to a specific story or campaign arc.

So when the players had their characters pick up The Pnakotic Manuscript at the end of one session, and prepared for their characters to study the text the next session. I mailed the players text with a collection of names and events, dates and places and small tidbits of stories, but never a complete narrative, just tidbits.

When we met, we played out the characters studying the text. Each player had the document, and the players took turns either through inner monologues or in dialogue with each other they reminisced or debated, what they have read, and they tied the pieces together. In this way they either studied the text alone or in a study group presenting their reading of the text and they kept building on each others improvisations. Meanwhile I took notes, and this became the true cosmology, that The Pnakotic Manuscript presented. Now I use the notes, when I create new missions and new conflicts.

And this is how, we roleplayed the characters studying the ancient texts, and how the characters learned the secrets of the ancients (gained Cthulhu Mythos-points and lost Sanity Points) – and yet it was based on the improvisations of the players, but now it is true in the campaign.

Next up is Threats, Sideplots, and Multiple Characters.


Running a Delta Green-campaign – Part Four

This fourth post will cover how the campaign is structured, and that covers how the missions are build and tied together, how the sessions flows, and how the grand back story fits into it all. Well this and the next post for this is going to be long, as I will try to cover a lot of aspects on how I do things. That is not easy.

Earlier I dealt with the premise of investigation and which basic and specialized rules, we would use in the game. This all ties in with how we play and how we want to play, and this shapes the structure of the campaign, and that is where things become difficult to describe – for describing how you play is not at all that easy.

We begin on top of things taking the large view and then start scaling down to the components.

Structuring the Campaign

How much to prepare? What grand plots will take place? Which mysterious villains will pull the strings? Any mapping?

Luckily there is a lot of campaign material in the Delta Green books, and that includes som potential major plots and villanous organizations from secret governmental organizations, MJ12 to necromantic nazi-sorcerers to the sinister and corrupting influence of the Shans, the Mi-go, and The King in Yellow etc. So it is just picking and choosing, and then tying them into the missions – and each mission is an episode. I strive to prep as little as possible, and I’ll gladly borrow ideas, where ever I find them

Episodes

Think of it as a tv-show. Each episode contains a certain flow of events, and a few single episodes are exceptions such as the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Fringe. Musical episodes, however, I rarely do, though it does happen: Twice I have played an opera-session (no, my players can’t sing).

Each episode lasts one to three sessions. They cover relation-scenes, mission briefings, solving the case and post-mission elements. This generally covers the A-plot in comparison with the tv-shows, and then there is the B-plot, or side-plot as I call it. Side-plots are special, as they are about the characters, and they are initiated by the players in an informal way – e.g. noone declares that he wants to do a “side plot” – but more about them later.

Basically an episode matches a regular mission or adventure in any Cthulhu-game, but certain scenes and elements are different. In a tv-show an episode contains its own individual dramatic arc, but since an episode is tied to a one to three sessions, I discovered during the first episode, that an episode needs to divided into several dramatic arcs, one for each session, and since each episode’s number of sessions in general are unknown, I adjust the episodes between the sessions, so each session possesses its own dramatic arc.

The Story Arc

Certain elements are re-occurring – NPC’s, Monsters, Mysteries, Organizations etc. – and the agents confront these again and again digging deeper into the mystery.

For the campaign I have chosen to use elements from the MJ-12 and The Grey-conspiracy (and I will not cover these elements in detail here, as not to spoil the setting. They are detailed in the main Delta Green-book and expanded upon in both Count Down and Eyes Only). I have developed some of the plot further, and the conspiracy becomes the cause of the missions.

The conspiracy works as the cause of missions, but I have not developed a series of events or missions. I do not plan any episodes ahead, and though I do have a catalogue of ideas, each episode is designed briefly before play – this in part to emphasize, that the players can buy missions adding an unpredictable element to the flow of the episodes. Furthermore I do not present new episodes, that follow-up on all clues – some are left hanging for the players to choose to follow-up on, if they want to know more about it (which is done by using the Buy Missions-rule).

The Conspiracy as the cause of missions is done by looking at the last episode, which contained a part of the story arc, and then ask, where do we go from here? How will the conspiracy react (if it reacts)? Where will the agents encounter the tendrils of the conspiracy next? What secret would be obvious to reveal and would a mission be shaped around it?

Next I will cover Cosmology, and How to read books.


[Delta Green] Episode Guide – Season One

The Hoarfrost Dragon-campaign is episodic in it’s structure. Each mission is thought of as an episode in a tv-show, and each episode plays out in a certain order. In this post I will briefly present first season of the campaign. Presently were approaching the end of second season, and soon I will post episode guide to the second season.

Also I will in a coming post discuss the use of the episodic structure. For now I will point out the different elements used in each episode, as I have described these elements in other posts about the campaign and its specialized rules.

Pilot

Episode 0: Prologue

In Moscow a CIA-agent and his two contacts interrupts a weapon trade between a researcher and Ithaqua-worshipping terrorists. An aspect of Ithaqua manifests, and the agent runs for his life. He is forever haunted by crows.

Background: Each character have an episode, an encounter with something, and that something is the reason the character became an agent of Delta Green. In this episode we see one character’s origin story, while the two other players had NPC-roles. The fourth player was absent.

  • Phenomenon: Aspect of Ithaqua
  • One Session, origin-episode
  • Playing NPCs: The two other players had two NPCs each

First Season

Episode 1: The Man in the House

The agents investigates mysterious deaths amont teens, and they discover that teens accidentally killed a researcher, who had performed mind-expanding experiments for the government in the late 70′ies. As his body died he became a freefloating consciouness tethering itself to the kids.

Episode 2: Black Angels over The Christmas Fair

The agents solves a series of kidnappings at Christmas fairs. The trail leads to a disgruntled veteran from Iraq, who went native and learned to summon Night Gaunts. When his native family were killed, he went back to the states and decided to kill at random to revenge the loss of his adoptive family.

Episode 3: Burned Bones

The episodes begins with a flashback to a mission before the characters became DG-agents. The NPCs are investigating an area, that is being falsely quarantined to hide something at a factory, which infects people. This flashback partly ties in with a mission, where the agents follow a mysterious case about a young man wanting his fathers body cremated and is returned the fossilized bones, as the crematorium was unable to burn them. This leads the investigators to a series of experiments on fighter pilots in the 90′ies, which is tied in with the experiments in episode 1. As in episode one The Men in Black arrives to collect evidence and it becomes a race to secure the pilots.

Episode 4: The Subterraneans

The agents team up with other DG-agents in order to search for a missing cryptozoologist, who have discovered troglodytes, or rather ghouls under Manhattan. The ghoul cult of Modiggian is also encountered, and the agents find the missing cryptozoologist, who has turned into a ghoul himself. They kill him and blow up some of the ghoul tunnels.

After the mission one agent goes rogue and is killed by a cell-member in order to stop him from harming innocents.

Episode 5: The Red Tears of the Black Madonna

The agents travel to South America to stop a shaman from assisting a drugbaron, and they encounter the permeating presence of an aspect of Shub Niggurath, which makes them call off the mission. They then discover, that they were send on the mission on false pretenses causing a lack of trust among the agents.

Episode 6: A Small Needlestick

The agents finds a conspiracy tied in with the experiments in episode one and three. Again there seem to be some official government-involvement in the conspiracy. They encounter Mi-go and one agent is kidnapped and taken along to Pluto.

Second season.


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