Category Archives: House Rule

Sound and Noise in RPGs – When magic and monsters can hear you

Sometimes they hear you. Then they come for you.

This is an article on how sound and noise can play a role in your game. Below are presented three magic items, that one way or another encourages players to talk or stay silent. Likewise are below three phenomena or techniques that are tied to the words and the sound the players use. These ideas are based on materials from the Hinterlands Adventures (which you can find at RPG Drivethru and at DMs Guild). The descriptions below are kept somewhat D&D agnostic, so that you can easily use them in your D&D 5th, Labyrinth Lord or AD&D game.

Magic Items

  • Potion of Roaring Strength
  • Powder of Silent Wandering
  • Whispering Skull

Potion of Roaring Strength

The potion comes in an iron flask with a depiction of a roaring lion. The liquid is golden, sweet and strong, and it gives of a musky smell.

This potion grants the imbiber +4 bonus to strength tests, +2 to melee attack and damage rolls, and doubles the changes of opening doors, lifting gates etc.

While under the influence of the potion the imbiber cannot whisper, and the imbiber must speak yell, when speaking, otherwise the effects of the potion disappears immediately. The player must speak loudly, when speaking for his or her character, or the effects of the potion ends. Otherwise the effects of the potion lasts 2 hours.

The potion can be found in The Flooded Temple.

Powder of Silent Invisibility

This fine, glittering white powder usually comes in a cloth bag containing 1d3 potions. When thrown in the air it turns all creatures in 10ft diameter circle invisible for as long, as they are silent, or until they attack. Once turned invisible the creatures do not need to stay together to remain invisible.

Any creature who speaks, immediately become visible, and this applies to the players too! Any player who does not merely neutrally describe their character’s actions will see their character turn visible again (in some instances you might even want to have the players write down their actions, as they may difficulty coordinating their actions, when unable to speak).

The Powder appears in the adventure Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart.

The Whispering Skull

Wondrous Item, rare

A gold plated human skull with a cruel smile. Imbedded in gold plating are tiny swirls hiding enchanted symbols, that any arcane spellcaster can identify as arcane symbols related to arcane spells.

If you listen to the skull, you can hear it whisper secrets. If you attune to this item, you can use its two powers.

The secret of wizards: Each whispering skull recites one particular arcane spell, and if you spent 15 minutes listening to the skull, when preparing spells, a wizard can memorize the spell from the skull as if the wizard was studying his or her own spellbook. The skull’s spell cannot be transcribed.

The spell the skull recites is 70% of the time anecromancy spell of level 4-9, and the remainder 30% a divination spell.

The secret of adventurers: If you listen to the skull for 15 minutes before entering a dungeon, the skull will tell you a secret about the dungeon – but only if you whisper a valuable secret to the skull, that you have not told it before.

DM rolls hidden on the table:

1-25 The skull reveals the whereabouts of a treasure in the dungeon
26-70 The skull tells about a mystical danger or a hidden trap in the dungeon
71-85 The skull reveals the whereabouts of a hidden treasure in the dungeon
86-00 The skull lies

The Whispering Skull appears in the adventure Tower of the Star Watcher.

Techniques and Mechanics

  • Wandering Monsters
  • Song Lock
  • Curse of the Faeries

Be silent – or the troll comes for you

Whenever the players are noisy, they risk attracting monsters that may attack their characters. If they do not act and play quietly as their characters would do when moving through caves and grottoes, they will allow the GM to use wandering monsters against them.

Place a cup or glass on the table and have a collection of counters, dice or crystals ready.

Tell the players that their noises are reflective of the noise their characters make.

Whenever a player is noisy or makes a noisy activity (dice clattering, a chair creaking, a bag of chips rustles), you grab one of the counters and put it into the cup. Make sure the PCs see it. Allow the players to whisper loudly without being penalized (unless they overdo it), so that you still can hear them, when they are planning things or talking to you.

Whenever a certain number of objects are in the cup, a roll on the Wandering Monster table is triggered. Then empty the cup and begin collecting again. A fitting amount might for at start be 5 counters, and then you can increase or reduce the amount as needed.

Certain actions are pure and simply noisy. Combat with weapons and armor banging against each other, people yell in anger and fear, and magic roars through the area. Whenever combat begins, just add a single counter to the cup and allow the players to speak freely.

Sing Friend and Enter

The magical stone door is hardened through enchantments to resist most attempts to break it or force it open, and yet, there is a simple way to open the door, that may confound most adventurers. It is known as a Song Lock.

Etched into the surface with silver runes is an ancient song, and merely singing the text is what is needed to open the door, however the players must sing the text. For each being wanting to pass through the door, it must sing the text written on the door. Give the players a simple text to sing, and have them sing it together to open the door. Until it is sung, the door does not open.

A variant of the Song Lock appears in the adventure Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart.

Faerie Curse: Bound Tongue

The Knights of the Flower are champions of the faeries, and they master both the art of combat and magic. Their task is to challenge mortals, and to do that, they must master many different arenas, not merely combat using sword and lance, but also riddles, puzzles and magic.

The Knights of the Flower are encountered in the Hinterlandet woodland adventures – to be translated and published later – and among their abilities is the curse Bound Tongue, they often use when they challenge mortals to solve riddles.

The curse is tied to a specific word, and every time the player uses this word, their character suffers a bloody slash on their tongue, as if an invisible knife had cut it in punishment. The DM keeps an eye out for the words, the player uses, and every time the player speaks the chosen word (which might be ‘sword’, ‘initiative’, ‘but’ etc.), the character suffers 1 point of damage or 1d4 points (dependent on which version of D&D, you are playing. Up to AD&D 2nd edition it is suitable with 1 point of damage, and from 3rd edition 1d4 points of damage is typically suitable).

The curse is lifted, once the puzzle is solved, or if the Knight of the Flower is satisfied with the adventurers’ actions.

Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands) adventures contains more of these meta-play elements using sounds and voices, and more examples will appear in later adventures.


#RPGaDay2015 – Day 24: Favorite House Rule

rpg-a-day-2015Today the challenge in #RPGaDay2015 is favorite houserule, and I will pitch in with a few thoughts on my own. Houserules are interesting but sometimes also controversial, but to my mind most controversies around house rules are related to how they are broadcast to the group, and the purpose of houserules. To some a houserule is used to mend a perceived flaw in the system, whether there is a flaw or not, and careless applied houserule might in such instances make the game less appealing for the other players thus hurting their game experience and creating a controversy.

Day 24 – Favorite Houserule

I like houserules, and we use them a lot. We usually play with two kinds of houserules: 1) Campaign house rules (tailored rules) and 2) Houserule of the day.

Tailored rules are houserules, that are added to the campaign to make the rulesystem help focus on certain aspects of the game. In a Mystaran D&D Glantri campaign, where all the characters were wizards attending The Great School of Magic, all XP were gained from passing courses in magic, not from killing and looting, which forced the players to divide their time between attending classes and going on adventures.

Houserule of the day is a favorite among my players. In this instance a rule is introduced, that only applies for one session (unless it becomes such a succes, that it becomes a permanent feature of the campaign). Houserule of the day is a specific rule introduced to support a certain event or feature during a session (just as when an episode of a tv-show is filmed entirely in black/white or as a muscial). One such houserule during the wizard campaign was A Night at the Opera, where the wizard students when to a yearly major opera and the action alternated between the story of the opera and the backstage intrigues among shady wizard nobles.

In this case the rule was: Everytime you want your character to do something at the opera (a clandestine meeting, conspirering, gaining intel etc.), you must play a scene from the opera, and the scene must last two minutes.

This meant that the action alternated between the play on the stage and the intriques behind the stage and among the nobles on the balconies at at opera house, and we had some great fun at seing the players act out the different roles of the opera struggling to keep a scene lasting two minutes (this required a lot of repeating the same lines “I love you … I love you … I looooooooooove you …” giving the events on the stage a feel of being an opera play).

So the opera house might have been a favorite, but mine would in this case be the following:

Play a scene, gain a bonus

This is the most basic version of the scene, but we use it in a variety of ways. In The Great School of Magic campaign, the rule was formulated as follows: Play a studyscene with another play to gain a bonus to pass an exam.

Passing exams was the source of XP and thus levels, and the players would do their best to gain as many bonuses to these rolls as possible – and one source was studyscenes. In a studyscene the player’s character would be studying together with a secondary character belonging to another player, and what happened during the scene was open, and was mostly being used to develop characters and explore aspects of their personalities. It allowed the players to shine, and was important for the development of the characters.

We use this kind of houserule in many different versions, and it works great to put a focus on the small things, but stille those that develop characters and settings.


[Delta Green] Creating Leads

This here is another one of the special rules in our Delta Green-campaign. The rule relates to investigation, and its main purpose is to circumvent investigation, or rather those situations, where the players get stuck in the investigation for one reason or another. Secondly the rule allows player to make their interpretations count – it is not uncommon that GMs replaces elements of a plot with the players ideas, if their idea is good – and with this rule, the players can choose to let their ideas be the correct independently of GMs ideas.

Here is how it works

For 5 sanity points a player can define a link between two facts. In other words a player can construct a connection between two clues, that otherwise does not exist, but becomes real once defined.

There is a third reason for the rule. A part of the Cthulhu Mythos is, that it operates by a different logic than humankinds, which is why the mythos seems so maddening. By sacrificing logic and sense (paying 5 sanity points) the players can tie clues together, that otherwise would not be related.

  • In one episode (The Subterraneans, ep04) a player paid 5 sanity points to discover the secret ghoul tunnels in the subway, and thus allowing the players to track down their foes.
  • In episode Black Santas, White Snow, ep11 (our second Christmas-episode) one of the players chooses to interpret a madman’s pentagrams as an Elder Sign, and uses it as a cue as how to defeat the villains.
  • In a third episode, Is It Haunted?, ep13, using one of the published modules from Delta Green: Count Down, Night Floors, one player creates a lead to retrieve an agent stranded in Carcosa by using The Author’s typewriter to change “the script” bringing the lost agent back to the building.

The rule is rarely used, but it allows the players to create a certain kind of meeting and solve challenges for a price. This does not make the missions less dangerous, but it allows the players to create meaning, where meaning otherwise does not exist.

It does however require that you as a GM accepts, that your scenario can be changed in ways, that you had not planned or foreseen. It requires a somewhat open design, but it suits our play style rather well.


The Hit Points of Heroes

I got tired of players rolling a 1 for hit points when levelling up – especially the warrior-types, as they need a lot of hit points to function in an effective manner – and because I want to be able send monster after monster after the PC’s, and this works best if their resources are not too low.

Once the resources of the PCs are spent, they retreat and rest – that makes sense – and if the warrior of the party hardly any resources have (in the shape of HP’s), they are likely to retreat early. The resources of the rogue, the wizard and the cleric are in a sense stable, as they gain a fixed number of spells and skill points, when gaining levels, just as the fighter’s combat abilities improve in a stable manner, but when characters rely on a variable, things change (and since everything else is fixed, i.e. no variable amount of new spells, feat or skill points, why is it that hit points are not, besides tradition?), and things change especially when you roll abysmally.

Thus I presented the following rule:

Heroic Hit Points

Half the hit die is rolled, the other half is gained automatically. This results in the following changes:

  • d4 = d2+2
  • d6 = d3+3
  • d8 = d4+4
  • d10 = d5+5
  • d12 = d6+6

This ensures that the fighter gains between 6 and 10 hit points at each level. This works for us.

 


The Art of Whining

This is a peculiar rule. In part it is inspired by annoying teens in popular media, like Harry Potter in book 5, like Angel’s son the Angel-tv series, and Buffy’s sister in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. There was nothing more irritating than the pouting teens complaining the injustices of the world. However, since the wizard-campaign is about a teens attending The Great School of Magic, we of course had to have a rule allowing the players to whine in the same manner. If pouting teenagers are part of the parcel, we had to have it too.

Before the rule were implemented we had a series of sessions, where the group was split up, and the characters were stranded in strange and dangerous realms, where time moved in a different manner, so what were days or weeks in the prime plane were months in the outer planes. These imprisonments gave them good reason for having something to whine about.

The Rule of Whining

Here is the first part of the Whining:

  • The rule is valid until summer (in campaign, that is about half a year)
  • The character’s can at any time choose to whine. The whining must include references to the harrowing experiences in the outer planes.
  • After whining the player earns a Dark Plot Point (and they are cool!).

Yes, this means that the players can earn lots and lots of Dark Plot Points, and yet there is a hindrance. Actually there are two hindrances

Notice that the rule introduces a new kind of Plot Points. These are not the same, as the basic Plot Points (covered in this post), and the Dark Plot Points exists besides the regular ones.

The Price of Whining

One hindrance is a side effect of the Dark Plot Points, the other is the nature of whining. It is rather simple, the players can’t stand it. At first it was fun for them whining about the harsh reality of teenage wizards, but at length it became exhausting for the players to whine, and thus they toned down the amount of whining. It is quite fun to see a rule limited mainly by how draining it is to use. The other hindrance is covered below, and it comes from possessing Dark Plot Points

The Reward for Whining

So let’s tak a look at Dark Plot Points. They are used next to regular Plot Points, that I described only in the most basic terms earlier. Dark Plot Points also last one season and they are part of the same theme as the whining rule.

Dark Plot Points

They have two effects. One is activated, once you posses the point and the other, when the point is spent.

For possessing Dark Plot Points

  • For each Dark Plot Point possessed the character have -2 CHR. This represents their glum and dark outlook. At 0 CHR the character is unable to act due to his or her depressive mood. Charisma is regenerated 1 pt a day after the point is spent.
  • With 1 or more points, the character have -4 on all social skill checks involving children or animals (this includes familiars). Combined with the charisma penalty the character is easily estranged from his familiar and any other pets.
  • With 1 or more points you gain +1 caster level, when creating magic items (yup, magic items become more powerful, when created by an emotionally charged wizard)
  • With 2 or more points, the caster gains +1 caster level with spells (yup, they become more powerful spell casters) [remember this stacks with Thing’s My Master Taught Me and The Art of Doing it Cool]

Dark Plot Points can be spent for the following effects

  • Magic of the Darkened Mind (cost 1): Add a Fear Effect to a spell
  • Prophetic Dream (cost 1): GM creates a prophetic dream, the player suggests theme and/or subject
  • Networking with the Underworld (cost 1+): The PC gains a contact in the criminal underworld
  • Contraband (cost 1+): The character acquires an illegal or restricted product (drugs, poison, holy symbols – since religious practice in Glantri is forbidden).

Two of the options have a variable cost. It is a difficult to set the exact price for various substances and contacts, so they are based on a negotiation between player and GM. The player informs the GM, what he wants, and GM presents a price.

The Right Amount of Whining

As the points work right now, it is an advantage to have at least two Dark Plot Points, as this adds a caster level, but this also means the character have -4 CHR and additionally -4 on social checks dealing with e.g. his familiar. Of course it is even better to have more points, so you both can have the extra caster level and spare points to spend, but will you pay the price in glum looks and whining?

Why oh Whine ?

Now the purpose of the Dark Plot Points is to play a bit with the conflict between mastering dark powers and being an empathic person. How much will you sacrifice for power? The other purpose is to point ahead in the campaign. The prophetic dreams allow the players to choose subjects, they have an interest in, and then the DM can create hints of what is to come.

Likewise the opportunity to gain a network with the underworld represents the characters’ growing involvement with the intrigues and dirty tricks, that is a part of their world. Few wizards are above employing thieves, smugglers and others for their intrigues. When all your opponents master’s magic, you need alternative resources.

Finally it allows us to explore the whiny aspects of teens, and the idea of estrangement as the price for power. We are having fun.


[Delta Green] Cell Phones – GM’s Great Joy

The Delta Green-campaign takes place in the present, and since we skip from episode to episode without commenting on the spend between the episodes, we are always in the present, and in the present cell phones are common. Very common, so that when I last fall played a brief Trail of Cthulhu Bookhounds of London-campaign playing in a society without omnipresent phones was notable. The players could not easily split up, but had to plan ahead where and when they met.

Splitting up the party

In our campaign the players continuously split up their party and they usually go investigating in pairs – and in episode seven Dirty Jobs they actually went on two different missions at the same time without ever meeting (described here) – and they continuously brief each other and each other updated on their latest discoveries. This makes for fast and efficient investigation, and they can solve problems twice as fast as Mulder and Scully.

Cell phones are in other words great for the game, and with cell phones help is always just a call away.

For some this is interpreted as the loss of isolation, and without isolation there is no horror. This however is not how it works. Cell phones are great tool for the opposite, as once you are used to always being in contact, then the loss of the phone becomes unnerving adding to horror of being isolated.

Loosing contact

There are many easy ways to temporarily rid the agents of phones, but they should be used sparingly, as less is more, and if the phones malfunction every session it just gets boring.

When a villain shoots at an agent, he may accidentally hit the phone instead of the character, when he agent stumbles, the phone may fall from the pocket, and when tackled by cultists, the phone may be damaged.

I use the following approach, if I need a phone (or some other piece of equipment) ruined as part of the events:

When a player fails a skill check, I choose a consequence – this may be that the action fails, or that the action succeeds, but something else goes wrong. The player fails a dodge-check, but instead of the character getting wounded, the opponent destroys the phone, or when the player fails a Library Use check, he is still succesful, but displaces his phone during the search. For people familiar with Mouse Guard, this approach is easy to recognize.

Now that is the easy thing to do. But cell phones can be so much more fun, when they betray, their owners so let’s have a look at that.

Episode Four: The Subterraneans

The agents explore ghoul tunnels under Manhattan. As they enter the tunnels, they end up under so many tons of dirt and concrete, that no signal is available for their phones. They are isolated, as they crawl through the tunnels.

Episode Five: The Red Tears of the Black Madonna

The agents travel to South America (and they don’t worry about roaming) on a black op to stop drug barons. They encounter a fertility cult worshipping what on the surface seems to be a syncretic product of Catholicism and local non-Christian beliefs, but it is also a cult worshipping an aspect of Shub-Niggurath. The aspect can at any time manifest through phone calls, so when the agents begin to receive phone call from the demonic entity using the voice of their loved ones, it begins to unnerve them. It gets worse, as when they handle the phone to somebody else, it is not the demonic entity, but the relative on the phone, and the phone calls them, even when it is turned off.

(Check the episode guide for Season One)

Episode Eight: So Big and Green the Forrest is

A Lloigor king is breaking free from its ancients bonds, and it is beginning to mentally control all children in the region etc. Another effect is that the Lloigor can be felt through the phone, as an intense pulse beat, that pulses through the phone user establishing a contact between the phone user and the Lloigor. Furthermore it disturbs the signal making it difficult to hear each other on the phone. The agents stopped using the phones, during the mission, as they felt the was too dangerous, not wanting to see what happened, if they stayed on the phone.

Episode Ten: The House on the Heath

The agents confront a Serpent Man Sorcerer, and he masters an alien technology, that is able to override mechanical and technological devices, so suddenly the agents are without phones, computers and firearms confronting the monster. Quite the unpleasant situation for them.

The Cthulhu Mythos

The mythos exists in many variations, so whenever it is needed, the agents can be derived of their phones or their phones becomes the tool of their enemy. When Shub-Niggurath manifested through their phones, it more or less resulted in the agents called off the mission and went back home.


[Delta Green] Traits and the Corruption of Traits

My Delta Green-campaign uses a bunch of different rules and mechanics. In this post I’ll cover traits, the corruption of traits, Fortune-points and Insight-points, and how these mechanics keep the investigators alive long enough to be alienated.

The rule in brief

  • Choose three traits – positive or negative
  • Each trait can be used once pr. session to flipflop a skill check.
  • The player can earn a Fortune-point, if the trait is used to hinder the skill check.

Borrowings

Flipflop is borrowed from Unknown Armies. With a flipflop, you shift the numbers on the percentile die, so 73 becomes 37, 81 becomes 18 and 55 is still 55.

The idea that a trait can be used in both a positive and a negative manner is borrowed from Mouse Guard. So the trait clumsy is no worse than the trait dextrous, since the player chooses when the trait is applied.

The rule in detail

Each character possesses three traits. A trait can either be positive or negative, it can be physical, social, mental etc. Since the Call of Cthulhu is not about playing crazy people battling horrendous beings, but about people having mindshattering revelations about the truth of the world, they live in, the players cannot choose insanities

When a roll is failed, the player can choose to activate a trait, and then briefly describe how the trait plays a roll in granting the character succes. The dice are then flipflopped.

Fortune-points

The player can choose to gain -30 penalty to the skill check or to force upon himself a skill check (GM is final arbiter here) in order to earn a Fortune-point. This is chosen before the dice are rolled.

Fortune-points can be spend, when a critical failure is rolled. This changes the critical failure to a regular succes, and this is due to some outside factor randomly helping the character. Critical failure is when a pair is rolled, and the skill check is failed, e.g. rolling 88 on a Driving Car-70%. Again this is borrowed from Unknown Armies.

Corrupting the trait

This is second part of the rule, and this rule is invoked by the GM, when a character looses 5 or more points of sanity in one go, and the situation feels right. At present this is a very soft way of handling the rule, and it needs some development, but that will have to come in later.

When a trait is corrupted, it is replaced with a new trait, that reflects the mental stress the character have been through. This can be anything from mental stress to a guilty conscience, as long as it is a negative trait. The original trait can be regained in the same manner as characters can be cured of their insanities.

A corrupted trait can be used to flipflop failed rolls as a regular trait, and it can be used to earn points. The player earns Insight-points instead of Fortune-points.

Insight-points

An Insight-point can be spend instead of paying 5 sanity-points, when using spells or magical items. This allow the character to cast spell without loosing sanity.

The purpose of the rule

One aspect of the traits are simply to grant the players more successes, and to have them describe their characters’ traits in the process. Secondly it encourages the players to risk failing once in a while in order to earn points, that protects them from critical failures.

The second aspect is more important. The corrupted traits represents the alienation of the character from his surroundings, and in part from the player himself, as the character’s traits are replaced with new traits dictated by the GM, and at the same time making the original traits unavailable. Futthermore the Insight-points encourages the use of spells and magical items, which in themself brings the characters closer to the hidden world of the Cthulhu mythos.


[Delta Green] Agent Points – Resources and Missions

Today I’ll cover Agent Points, which allows the players to buy missions, equipment and connections.

When watching shows like X-files or Fringe or even Supernatural I am not worried whether or not the protagonists can finance their equipment, nor do we see them worry too much about it, even shows where the protagonists or chronic poor, they always manage to the necessary equipment.

That’s why I like abstract mechanics for equipment such as the Circles-mechanic in Burning Wheel/Burning Empire/Mouse Guard. The bookkeeping in D&D is a boring chore, even though the collecting of treasures is the source of much fun.
For the very same reason I had no interest in wasting time managing the economies of the characters in the Delta Green-campaign.

Agent Points

  • One point is earned after each mission
  • Acquire equipment: 1+ point
  • Buy connection: 1+ point
  • Buy mission: 2 points

Acquire equipment

When equipment is not trivial, it must be acquired through the expenditure of agent points. Trivial equipment is any common equipment for a federal agent or the equivalent – laptops, firearms, basic surveyllance-equipment, first aid-kit, blackberry or some other cell phone.

The specific piece of equipment is not important to the mission, and so only unique, rare or cutting edge-equipment costs points, equipment such as false ID-papers, cutting edge surveyllance-equipment, unusual or illegal types of firearms.

Most equipment costs one point, extreme costs two or more at the GM’s disgression, and otherwise a mission is required to pick up the equipment, such as a magical artifacts and mythos books.

Buy Connection

During missions the agents can employ their connections to relevant people. The player pays an agent point and suggests a relevant PC, who can give the agents access to certain kinds of information, produce permits and contact to witnesses and other plot-relevant NPCs. Most connections costs one point and are directly connected to the PCs. For more points the connections can be connected to other persons (a chain of connections) and these other persons can be more powerful.

So far connections has been employed in mission four ‘The Subterraneans’ to introduce a contact, who happened to work among the witnessess (a caretaker of a soupkitchen for homeless), and in mission eight ‘So Green and Big the Forest is’ an extra-loyal and very strong parkranger, who didn’t mind keeping the lid on certain witnesses to avoid CDC taking over the case. Futhermore it was used to buy a connection to the District Attorney in LA in mission nine ‘Dolphin Birth’ in order to allow the DG-agents to infiltrate a case giving them a clear way into the mission.

I was inspired by Covert Generation-rpg for the idea of buying connections or constructing chains of connections.

Buy Mission

The campaign is episodic in it’s nature, and each mission lasts 1-3 sessions. The missions are designed by the GM, but the players can spend Agent Points to buy a mission. After each mission I ask if any of the players wants to buy a mission and if so, then the player and I meets or corresponds about the mission.

When buying missions the players get the opportunity to follow up on leads, they want to explore, to expand on their backstory (each agent is recruited after a mysterious encounter, which is normally unresolved) or simply to introduce certain themes or elements, they want explored.

The player chooses whether DG assigns the mission, or if the character suggests the mission to DG and is given a green light, or if the mission is on the agents own initiative without DG’s sanction.

The player suggests elements, that the player wants included in the episode, such as place, theme, relation to backstory etc.
From that material the GM creates an episode, so even though the player knows about the mission, it remains a mystery and there is plenty for the player to explore.

Bought Episodes

So far two episodes has been bought: Episode five and episode nine.

Episode Five: The Red Tears of the Black Madonna

The player wanted a mission in South America. The idea was that he earlier had been involved in clandestine missions in South America against drug lords. and that he recently had come across some new and mythos-related material. He tricks his fellow agents along. In part he wanted the mission to take place in a South American city and he liked the idea of a jungle mission.
I planned that the mission would be in two stages. First a city part, where they spend their time waiting for a contact and they pick up intel and clues. During their time the encounter The Cult of The Black Madonna with the Red Tears, which is a strange and weird fertility cult honoring ancient deities disguised as a local Catholic cult. In the second part they were supposed to go into the jungle further exploring the plot, but the mission was called off, as the agents panicked due to the pervasive presence of the Cthulhu Mythos, and they discovered that they had been manipulated on to the mission, and that they were working without the sanction of DG.

Episode Eight: ‘So Green and Big the Forest is’

After episode seven Dirty Jobs the agents of Cell S were in a bad standing with DG. One agent decided to follow a series of leads in order to find a scientist, who had dabbled into the Mythos-mysteries, and placate DG by resolving the case (this scientist was first mentioned in episode one and then again in episode three).

The player wanted a mission about the scientist, and that the mission took place in the backyard of one of the other characters (this part was cleared with that player). The episode gave the players the opportunity to catch the scientist turned sorcerer, and to stop a Lloigor-invasion. The last part was accomplished, but the scientist hidden behind a fold in time got away (folds in time is another theme in the campaign, which we will revisit later).


[Delta Green] Relation-scenes – Getting to know your investigator

In this post I will go into detail with the relation-scenes in my Delta Green-campaign. Relation-scenes are tied to the mechanic of Humanity- and Decline-points. In order to earn Humanity-points, you need to play relation-scenes. I covered Humanity and Decline in this post.

Structure

The campaign is episodic in it’s structure. Each episode lasts 1-3 sessions. Normally each episode begins with presenting the mission (an evening at the opera), then the relation-scenes are played and the characters hook up, receives their briefing and begins investigating. We do from time to time make exceptions to this model, such as ending the episode with the relation-scenes or playing an additional relation-scene.

At present we have played ten episodes. Season one consisted of the Prologue and six episodes, and we are now in season two. As for planning I as the GM have a larger mystery, that are revealed bit by bit in some episodes, a myth-arc, and other episodes are stand alone-episodes. This is much like shows like X-files and Fringe are structured. Though I have list of ideas and plots, that I will turn into episodes, none of these are planned yet. They are developed from episode to episode to match the situation in the group – but also in order to allow the players to buy missions, where they decide, where they want to go investigating. They suggest themes and elements and I turn it into an episode – so far we have had two of these.

Not all characters are necessarily present in an episode. Some first arrives later during the episode, and in other cases they do not appear at all. Playing NPCs is very common for our playstyle.

Relation-scenes

I will describe the relation-scenes, that were played in the first three episodes. For each scene there is a brief comment on how it was set, and between each episode, I will comment on our way of playing the scenes.

Episode 1: The Man in the House

In this episode we meet Cell S – so all the agents cover names begin with an S.

  • Agent Simon – A busy CIA-agent. We play a scene, where he call his ex-wife and tells her that some work has come up (the secret DG-mission to be exact) and that he does not have the time for their son this weekend, but he’ll make it up to him later.

(The player briefly described the scene, he wanted to play: him calling his ex-wife and telling her that he can’t have their child this weekend. Another player volunteers to play the wife)

  • Agent Sharp – Another CIA-agent and war veteran. He has created quite the career with wife, well-educated children etc., but most of it is facade. He visits an old friend and mentor at the John Hopkins University. They reminisce on the past.

(Again the player describes the situation and another volunteers to play the mentor)

  • Agent Sherlock – An FBI-agent, who is somewhat estranged from her family dominated by her strict grandmother. She lives alone in her appartment, but greets her neighbor from time to time. The scene is where she is packing her car to go on the DG-mission. Her neighbor sees her packing and asks cordial questions. He happens to know some people in the area, she is visiting on her holiday, and he volunteers the contacts.

(The player is not certain, what scene she wants to play. After a brief brainstorming we end up with this dear little scene, where we get to see her loneliness and her dorky but kind neighbor, whose friendly behavior becomes his trademark, as he appears in later in the campaign)

Switching between the agent’s private names in the relation scenes and their cover names on the missions strengthens the emphasis that this is a unnatural situation distanced from their normal every day.

Episode 2: Black Angels at the Christmas Fair

  • Agent Simon: The weekend is over, and agent Simon is returning his autistic son to his ex-wife. The son has accidentally packed his Christmas present for his father, and he unpacks everything in order to find it, which forces the parents to spend some time together.

(The player presents the scene and sets up the general events of the scene – that the son needs to unpack everything to find the present and give it to the father. Two players are appointed to play the ex-wife and the son)

  • Agent Sharp: His daughter is practising her violin for the Christmas concert at the school. Since his been called to a mission, he tells her, that he can not attend the concert, but he promises, that he sends his brother in his place. She is furious, since she wanted her father to be there as he promised her.

(Again the scene is set up by the player, another plays the daughter and we see what happens)

  • Agent Sherlock: She receives a call for from her dominating grandmother inviting her to stay with the family for christmas. The grandmother ignores any protests from agent Sherlock with her sweet demeanor using guilt and embarrasing questions as to why Sherlock still is not married and have no children like her cousins.
  • Agent Trevor from cell T (the fourth player in the group) – a park ranger and single dad with three teen-daughters. He lost his wife to a hit and run-driver a few years ago, and recently the has begun a fling with Hannah, the owner of the local diner. The scene is plays out at the church, where he and Hannah along with the local congregation is preparing a Christmas-event. He receives a mysterious call, and afterwards he tells Hannah, that is Them, and They need his help. He has to go. As he leaves the calls his elderly neighbor, Miss Morris, and asks her to look after the children for the weekend, as work requires him to be elsewhere.

(The player sets the scene, asks for a player to play Hannah, and then describes how he receives a call during the scene. We play the scene as described above and at the end he plays a brief call to his neighbor, but no one plays her, as it is not needed. Agent Trevor is the only character, that has told any civilians about DG and even then he is still very secretive).

In praxis an episode begins with a brief introduction from me. Usually if there going to be any specific rule of the day or some such. Then I ask the players, if anyone wants to play a relation-scene. Sometimes the players asks for ideas from us all.

The player sets the scene. Describes the where and how, and what it is, he wants to emphasize in the scene. The player asks the others, as to who wants to play what. Often the same player handles the same NPCs. This mainly done from an unspoken tradition and it is not a requirement. I as the GM never participates in the scenes. I watch and take notes – mostly in order to add the scenes to my AP-reports.

Episode 3: Burned Bones

  • Agent Sherlock: She visits her aunt at the mental institution. It is revealed, that the aunt is the first and the only other in the family, who has broken with the strict grandmother, and she is paying for it. We pick up clues, that not only the aunt is suffering psychically from this, but likewise is agent Sherlock.
  • Agent Sharp: Last episode he was wounded on the mission and this time an old colleague and war-buddy visits agent Sharp. A strain is put on their friendship as agent Sharp will not talk about the episode that got him wounded, thus breaking an unspoken rule between them.
  • Agent Trevor: We are the diner, where we see agent Trevor confide in Hannah about the strain the missions put on him, how important they are, and yet that he cannot tell her, what happened. As we zoom out, we see agent Simon spying on them on a distant hill.

(This scene was based on events from last episode, where agent SImon revealed, that he was somewhat unhinged, and the scene was set by both players involved)

  • Agent Simon sits lonely in his apartment. He is cataloguing a lot of photos taken in secret of the other agents and hiding them in a secret compartment in his closet.

(Agent Simon is a very unsympathetic person and the player is envisioning his demise within a few eposides, and that he may need to be eliminated by his fellow agents. This is publicly shared with the rest of us. The scene is purely narrated by the player).

When we play the scene, there are no mechanical conflicts. We don’t roll any dice. Instead everything is improvised, and sometimes the players playing NPC’s pushes the main character into verbal conflicts and harsh words. Having a secret life as a DG-agent is not an easy task, but the importance of the missions must at times outweigh the responsibility towards family and friends. Some of the NPCs have become quite well developed and acts as recurring characters in the relation-scenes.

The story about agent Simon grew as a B-plot, that were played out between episodes. He was later killed by agent Sherlock, before he had the chance to kill Hannah in order to hurt agent Trevor. Agent Simon had the belief, that in order to be a well-functioning agent, you needed to fell pain, and by killing Hannah agent Trevor would feel the necessary loss. These scenes were entirely orchestrated by the players with my support.


[Delta Green] Decline and Humanity

This post is inspired by this post about the rewards of risk and the comments at Casting Shadows. It is about some the house rules in my Delta Green-campaign: The Hoarfrost Dragon.

Background

I wanted a different campaign with the Delta Green-setting for Call of Cthulhu. A campaign, where neither combat with the monsters, nor the investigative proces is the main stay. Instead the goal was a campaign, where we got to see the human side of the characters, and how their humanity were at risk if not lost in the encounter with the Cthulhu Mythos. So I combined a lot of different rules to get there. The core-engine is a hybrid of Unknown Armies and Call of Cthulhu supported with a series of rules or inspirations from other games, among others Covert Generation and Conspiracy of Shadows. With a large catalog of games available it can sometimes be a bit difficult to pin down the exact source of inspiration, but for this post it is the Doom Points from Conspiracy of Shadows.

Structure

The campaign is episodic in it’s structure much like a tv-show. Each episode lasts on average two sessions, though we have a few three sessions episode and two one-session episodes.

Each episode begins with us playing relationship-scenes. I ask the players, who wants to do a scene, and usually everybody wants to. Afterwards the characters receive an invitation to A Night at the Opera, which is slang for clandestine Delta Green-mission. The characters hook up, they receive their mission-briefing and off they go.

There are usually a few months between each mission, so all wounds are automatically healed between missions, and the characters can spend time in therapy or studying their Mythos-books. This is usually handled just before or just after we begin the mission.

The game is supported by specialized mechanics: Agent points (to buy connections, equipment and missions), Humanity points (to stay humane), Decline points (to stay alive), Traits (to increase chances of survival and to earn fate-points, that later can be traded for more survival). In this post I will cover Decline and Humanity.

Decline and Humanity

Each character begins the game with two Decline-points, and can buy more points by spending Humanity points. Humanity points are earned by playing scenes with your character’s relations.

Decline-points

Each character begins the game with two Decline-points and can buy more during the game. These extra points can be bought at any time, the player can afford them.

Each player picks a theme for his character’s decline. Whenever a decline-point is spend, or when the GM sets a scene attempting to eliminate the character, both players and GM should attempt to incorporate the theme.

Spending Decline-points

Decline-points can be spend to save the character from certain death at the hands of anything mythos-related. How the character survives is negotiated between the GM and the players – it may be done by retro-active actions, by finding the character unconscious at the scene, or later at a hospital etc. There no adverse effects to the character, i.e. loss of sanity points or some such.

Running out of Decline-points

When a character runs out of decline-points, the GM may freely set scenes, where he attempts to eliminate the character. These may come sudden and anti-climatic. It can a random drunk driver or a stray bullet, a stroke or the unwelcome attention of the Cthulhu Mythos. In a sense the possession of Decline points delays the demise of the character.

Buying Decline-points

New points can be bought at any time. It is however the price, that is the problem. Each Decline-point costs 2 Humanity Points and requires the loss of a relation.

Loosing a relation means that the character looses someone, he or she cares about. The loss can be the death of the relation, but mostly it comes from the alienation of the relation between the character and his relation. As time goes by, the character will loose more and more relations. There are as such no limit to the amount of lost relations in the game, as it is the act of loosing the relation that is important.

Humanity

Each character begins with no Humanity-points, but can earn points during the game by playing relationship-scenes. Humanity-points can be spend to regain sanity-points, to re-activate traits (just as you can re-activate spend traits in Mouse Guard) and to buy Decline-points.

Relations

Each character begins the game with three relations and more can be added during the game. Relations are people, who matter to the character, family, friends, colleagues etc. More can freely be added as the campaign progresses. It is not the number of relations that matter.

Relation-scenes

Each player can play at most a relation-scene each session or once pr. mission. The scene is typically played before each mission. The player controls the scene, and it is played without any die rolls. The player sets the scene, describes the situation and either narrates the scene alone or appoints the other players to play the relations, e.g. the scene is a family dinner-scene, where the family-members are played by the other players, or the scene is between the character and her friendly neighbor inviting her by to a cup of coffee. If a player can’t come up with a scene, the rest of us come up with suggestions.

After the scene is played out, the player earns a humanity point. The purpose of the scene is to the see the everyday-life of the character and ground them in a normal situation. This situation is the contrast to their missions, their adventures into the abnormal.

One consequence of this is, that the characters have become the most well-rounded characters I have ever seen in a Cthulhu-campaign. We spend time with them, when they are not investigating, and through those scenes, we get to know them. Knowing that they are doomed, as investigators in the Cthulhu-mythos setting are, lends an air of tragedy to the campaign.