Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 19 August 2019

Miskatonic Monday #25: Legs

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Depository.

—oOo—

Name: Legs

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Jim Phillips

Setting: Modern Day
Product: Scenario
What You Get: 3.47 MB, 21-page colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: B-Movie madness at an 'HPL' convention.

Plot Hook: Trapped in darkness, in a hotel, screams all around, can the investigators escape the towering darkness? 
Plot Development: A B-movie, darkness, the scuttling, and then some more scuttling. Did we mention scuttling?
Plot Support: Three decent maps and five pre-generated investigators.
Production Values: Decent.

Pros
# Parodies NecronomiCon (and similar conventions)
# Body survival horror
# One-shot

# Suitable as a convention scenario
# Potential for investigator-to-investigator conflict
# Potential for the players as investigators
# Decent art
# Good art

# Linear plot
# Free

Cons
# No investigator backgrounds
# Undeveloped potential for investigator-to-investigator conflict
# Unsuitable for any who dislikes scuttling


Conclusion
# Straightforward one-shot 
# All the scuttling you could ever want in the towering darkness.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Retrospective: Cults of Prax

One of the issues with RuneQuest—recently and beautifully republished as RuneQuest Classic by Chaosim, Inc.—was what it hinted at and did not provide. It hinted at a setting, that of Glorantha, which we know of today in all of its richness and detail through numerous roleplaying games and supplements. Notable among those hints were three cults, of which Orlanth and Kyger Litor were more important than the Black Fang Brotherhood, which suggested the power and place of faith and magic in the world of Glorantha. Had there been descriptions of more cults in RuneQuest, then perhaps the first step into Dragon Pass and Glorantha would have been easier. Of course, it should be made clear that this is not an issue with the most recent iteration of the roleplaying game, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, in that the cults, gods, and runes are more strongly integrated into the rules as well as the setting. Not so in 1978, but then came Cults of Prax.

Cults of Prax was published in 1979. It presented fifteen cults—old and new—plus their subcults, dedicated to fifteen very different deities. Fifteen cults which presented different world views. Fifteen cults which would support their members and even help train them in terms of magic and skills in return for their worship and donations to their gods of magical power and money. Fifteen cults which helped maintain a link between their gods and the real world, particularly through the rune magic the cults taught their initiates. Fifteen cults that the player characters could join and aspire to become Rune Lords and Rune Priests and so bring the power of their gods into the world. Fifteen cults which would provide motivations for NPCs and player characters alike.

The fifteen cults are broken into four categories—the Barbarian gods, the Invader deities, the Lightbringers, and non-human gods. The four Barbarian gods and their cults are Daka Fal, Storm Bull, Waha, and Eritha, the latter the primary Earth goddess in the region covered by Cults of Prax. The Invader deities are Humakt, the Seven Mothers, Pavis, and Yelmalio, with Pavis being an example of a local city cult and the Seven Mothers, a cult which most hold in antipathy, here presented as with the rest of the other cults as an organisation which a player character could join, benefit from and donate to, espouse, and more. The Lightbringers details only four of those that journeyed into Hell and returned Yelm to the world and include Issaries, Chalana Arroy, Lhankor Mhy, and Orlanth, whilst the non-human gods are Kyger Litor and Zorak Zoran—two Troll deities, and Aldrya, the goddess of the woods and mother of the Elves, Dryads, and Pixies. There is an interesting and diverse range of cults detailed here, most of them for the first time—the inclusion of Orlanth and Kyger Litor being the exception—but all pleasingly natural as if they have a place in the world, their members believe so, and they believe in the myths of their gods, which of course, varies from god to god. Sometimes conflicting, sometimes not. 

What is interesting about this selection and thus Cults of Prax is the geographical setting. In more recent treatments of Glorantha—RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest in Glorantha—the focus has been on Dragon Pass, on Sartar, and its surrounds, but here in the second book for RuneQuest, the region explored is Prax, the god-blasted desert region home to the great beast-riding barbarian tribes, infested by Trolls at night, and the site of the civilised town of New Pavis, abutting the ruins of the old city, now known as the Big Rubble. This means that many of the deities more familiar to Sartar are not detailed here—Ernalda, the primary Earth goddess, being the primary example. This focus upon Prax and its nearby regions would continue in then future supplements for RuneQuest, such as the Pavis: Threshold to Danger and Big Rubble: The Deadly City boxed sets.

Each of the fifteen is described more or less in the same level of detail, giving information on the mythos and history of the cult, the nature of the cult, its organisation, membership, and associated and subservient cults, along with some miscellaneous notes. The supplement actually begins not by detailing a cult to be found in Prax, but a sample cult, a generic cult which is used to explain what each of the entries are in the cult write-ups. Along with guidelines for creating Rune spells, what this chapter also does is explain cults in a manner that a Game Master could go away and create his own rather than use those given in Cults of Prax.

Of the entries in each cult write-up, the mythos and history of the cult presents the life and purpose of each god in four stages—‘Before Time’, ‘Since Time Began’, ‘Life After Death’, and ‘Runic Associations’. So, for Yelmalio, ‘Before Time’ describes how as a warrior and leader he fought for his father, Yelm, the Sun, and despite being disarmed by Orlanth, and being wounded and having his fire powers stolen by Zorak Zoran, fought alongside Lord Elf to fight chaos; how ‘Since Time Began’, the cult has remained relatively small having few Sun Dome temples, but spread wherever the Sun and sky are worshipped, fielding professional soldiers in many conflicts; and for ‘Life After Death’, how his worshippers will descend to the mansions of Yelm where the sun god stayed after Orlanth killed him. There they will find final contentment after many lifetimes of work, being willing to return again and again to achieve this—even resurrection. The cult’s ‘Runic Associations’ are Truth and Light.

The cult entry for Yelmalio goes on to detail how it survives in areas where there are Storm worshippers; how it has little political power, but is renowned for its mercenaries; and why it hates Zorak Zoran and Kyger Litor, but maintains a professional rivalry with Humakt. Thus cult temples are organised like military companies and Trolls may never join the cult and cult members may never befriend Trolls. Cult members are taught battle magic spells Coordination, Detect Gold, Light, and Repair at half the cost, but cannot learn Bludgeon, Darkwall, Fireblade, and Fire Arrow—the latter two because Zorak Zoran stole Yelmalio’s heat powers, which is a neat way of mechanically reflecting the cult’s mythology. The entry goes on to describe the requirements for lay and initiate membership, then Rune Lord and Rune Priest, details the Rune spells the cult teaches, as well as Rune spells that Yelmalio’s associated cults also grants, so for example, the Sunripen Rune spell from Aldrya and Sunspear from Yelm. Lastly, miscellaneous notes detail the uniform nature of the cult’s temples—square, with slightly tapering walls and a gold sheathed dome, how the cult hates to be paid in silver Lunars rather than gold Wheels to the point that it pounds Lunars into lumps of metal, and how many of the cult’s members tend to be blonde and brown-eyed.

There is a wealth of detail in each of the fifteen entries. Whether it is the notes on Troll culture and Human prejudices in the entry under Kyger Litor; how Storm Bull worshippers are contemptuous of anything that does not meet their cult’s crude and simple demands, even as they partake of the contemptible lifestyle; and how the swords of Humakti initiates always shine. There is a certain dryness to this detail, but this does not get in the way of it and it is counterpointed by the travelogue of Biturian Varosh, a merchant prince of the Issaries cult. His journey takes him across Prax to Pavis, down to Corflu and back again, all the while encountering different cults and attempting to trade with them (or not in the case of Lunar Seven Mothers cultists), adding colour and flavour, though of course from a Lightbringer worshipper’s point of view.

In addition, Cults of Prax gives an explanation of the Gloranthan calendar, whilst an extensive set of appendices lists such things as cult compatibles, cult membership for the various barbarian tribes of Prax, the new skills and Battle Magic spells to be found in the supplement, a chronology, and new weapons of the Lunar scimitar and the use of shield and two-handed spear favoured by Yemalio mercenaries and soldiers, since adopted by regiments of the Lunar Empire.

Physically, Cults of Prax is organised in a simple, readable fashion. There is no index per se, but the lists of new skills, Battle Magic spells, and Rune spells do indicate the sections where they can be found, and since the book is so well organised, finding such entries is actually not as difficult as it could be. The book is lightly illustrated with just a few decent pieces of art, though some of it does little to actually illustrate the contents of the book.

The critics at the time of its publication were positive in their response to Cults of Prax. Reviewing Cults of Prax in White Dwarf No. 23 (Feb/Mar 1981), O. C. Macdonald wrote, “Cults of Prax, which is essentially an expansion of the rather scanty rules given in the RuneQuest rulebook on runemagic is described as the second book of RuneQuest.” continuing with, “For those who are interested in RuneQuest, I cannot rate this book too highly, it makes an already excellent, imaginative, and highly playable FRP system into a masterpiece that richly deserves a place at the forefront of the hobby.” before awarding it a score of ten out of ten. It was also given a detailed review by Richard L. Snider in Different Worlds, Issue 7 (Apr/May 1980), who described Cults of Prax as, “...[T]he best extant cosmology designed for use with any FRP that has been published. The format is presented in a professional, enjoyable and highly organized manner. I heartily recommend it both to those persons who own a copy of RQ and others who are interested in adding this dimension to their individual campaigns.”, finishing with, “I view the addition of social interaction mechanisms and a delineated cosmology to be integral to a complete fantasy campaign. Cult of Prax [sic] is the only published sourcebook of this type that gives these factors anywhere near their proper weight. I applaud both authors and the editors for their fine product.”

Steve Jackson—of Steve Jackson Games—gave Cults of Prax a capsule review in Space Gamer Number 27 (March/April 1980), commenting that, “This book could perhaps have been improved by a slightly less scholarly writing style, The "textbook" nature of the cult descriptions make them somewhat confusing at first (even to an experienced RuneQuest fan; I checked!) On the other hand, this same textbook attitude gets a lot of data into a small space, and lends great verisimilitude to the game-world of Glorantha.” He finished the review, saying, “If you play RuneQuest, you want this book. If you are a serious Game Master in any fantasy system, you would do well to look it over. The CULTS OF PRAX philosophy is totally god-orientated. Similarly god-orientated GMs may find it used; others will find it interesting. And remember: Gods don't have to be effective to be important. Belief is the thing, and the interactions of social groups and differing beliefs in CULTS OF PRAX is good fantasy reading if you don't game at all.”

Cults of Prax was published in 1979 and so is forty years old. If RuneQuest provided the framework through which we could enter Glorantha, Cults of Prax, described as the second book of Cults of Prax, opened up the world of Glorantha, not necessarily physically—though there is a geographical aspect to the supplement in Biturian Varosh’s travels—but mystically and motivationally. In focusing upon the cults, it placed an emphasis on how and why each cult’s members viewed the world, and how and why they interacted with each other, with other cults, and with the world around them. Cults of Prax brought both function and form to faith, and in doing so, it made faith both playable and something that you wanted to play. This is what made Cults of Prax arguably the most important supplement ever for both Glorantha and RuneQuest.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Seeking an RPG

The year is 1765. King George III is mad. In France, hunters not only tracked down and discovered the Beast of Gevaudan, but found the region infested with pagan cults. Both London and Paris have walled off great sections of their cities into which are quarantined all those found to be suffering from the Plague. This plague, is not one of buboes and fever—though the authorities would say it is and would even go as far as to put the city of London to the torch in 1666, but of madness, madness which is exacerbated by the monthly rise of the Blood Moon that has cast its baleful light upon the world for centuries. Whilst there is madness within the cities, there are horrors outside it that drive the peasants into worshipping them or fleeing into the towns and cities. All this has arisen since the Templars broke into the tomb of Abd al Hazred under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem in 1136—against the Akhua Brotherhood, a religious sect dedicated to protecting the tomb—and took the only copy of his dread work, the Al Azif, so allowing true knowledge of the universe into the world, and perhaps something worse... In the centuries since, the Akhua Brotherhood has slipped into the shadows, funding both scientific research across Europe and a front, a semi-secret organisation with halls in London, Paris, Berlin, the Colonies, and elsewhere, dedicated to hunting down and destroying the monsters that have arisen under the Blood Red Moon and from the Plague. This organisation is known as the League of Seekers.

This is the set-up for a British roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror and action in which the player characters are members of the League of Seekers or Seekers. They are members of the peasantry, the middle classes, and gentry who answer the call in their very blood to join. Some of the middle classes may actually be members of the Akhua Brotherhood, whilst some of the gentry are actually Vampyrs. Characters are defined by nine attributes—Arcane, Conflict, Eloquence, Fitness, Investigate, Learned, Mind, Occult, and Subterfuge—each of which is associated with five percentile skills. 

To create a character, a player rolls for his (social) Class. This determines his base Attribute values and what skill values can be assigned as well the life path the character will follow during creation. The Lifepath determines their birthplace, upbringing, and early career, which give further adjustments to the character’s attributes and skills. Every character is randomly assigned the start of a tale which describes their encounter with the horrors of the world which his player must finish and the player also gets to choose a statement which grants the player character a bonus under certain circumstances. For example, ‘I am likeable’, which grants a +10% bonus when the character attempts to convince or charm someone. A character also receives an Awakening Power as a result of his Tale of Horror, and lastly receives some equipment from the League of Seekers, including a special gift, such as a Tincture of Healing or the Lamp of Guiding Light.

Standard character generation is straightforward enough. Creating a character who is a member of the Akhua Brotherhood is more complex and includes a player choosing between four sects: Bahith—keepers of knowledge, Hamia—protectors of sacred sites and warriors, Masernam—Sleepwalkers who guard the realms of dream and spirit, and Al-Hashishan—the secret of assassins. The creation of Vampyrs is similarly complex with attributes, skills, powers, weaknesses, and so on, all depending upon what generation the Vampyr is.

Name: Guillaume Martin
Birthplace: Village Upbringing: Basic Living
Background Career: Hunter
Class: Peasant Age: 24 Gender: Male
My Tale: I had hunted wolves before, but none as big as this… [As it cut down my fellow hunters I stood in fear, yet it did not notice me. Knowing that it would strike at nearby villages, I fled to find help.]
Your Statement: I am one with nature (+10% to tasks in the fields or forest)
Experience Dice: d4

Arcane
Alchemy 00%, Lore 00%, Magick 00%, Ritual 00%, Sigil 00%

Fitness 4
Acrobatics 00%, Athletics 20%, Resistance 10%, Toughness 30%, Travel 20%

Mind 2
Cunning 20%, Dream 00%, Logic 00%, Memory 10%, Willpower 30%

Conflict 5
Explosives 00%, Melee 00%, Ranged 50%, Thrown 00%, Unarmed 00%

Investigate 3
Detect 10%, Notice 40%, Research 00%, Search 20%, Track 60%

Occult 2
Cults 00%, Demonology 00%, Divination 00%, Folk Tales 00%, Xenology 00%

Eloquence 4
Commerce 10%, Deceive 00%, Diplomacy 00%, Etiquette 00%, Languages 00%

Learned 2
Academia 00%, History 00%, Medical 00%, Mythology 05%, Theology 05%

Subterfuge 4
Disguise 00%, Forgery 00%, Stealth 50%, Steal 00%, Tinker 00%

Insanity 12 Insight 0 Reason 3
Dark Knowledge 04% 
Wounds 12 Injury 3
Damage Bonus: d6

Talents: Bruiser
Traits: Invisible
Awakened Powers: Blend Focus: 40%

Equipment: Hunters Carbine, Repeating Crossbow, Blade of St. Bartol, Seeker’s Raiments, three sedatives, bedroll, satchel, flint & steel, rope, lantern, £5

One issue with character generation is that eighty percent of the player characters are likely to be peasants, and that does limit what character types a campaign may end up with. It also limits access to certain skills. Much of this is understandable, given the social constraints of the time, but for example, any character with an interest in the skills which fall under the Occult attribute will really need to be of the middle classes or the gentry to pursue them. So it is not possible to play a witch-type or wise woman-type character with any ease. Another is that the rules do not tell you if the base skill points are assigned to the five skills under each attribute or spread between the various skills.

The roleplaying game includes an extensive equipment list with a particular emphasis on the esoteric. For example, both armour and weapons can be embossed with Runes, such as Aegishhjalmur: Protection, which increases the armour value of any armour won by one, or Iibead: Banish, which when etched into a blade or bolt will banish the magical effects protecting a target and inflict extra damage on magical beings. There are several specialised weapons too. They include the chain sword, used either as a sword or a whip, the Leyden mine which unleashes a blast of stunning electricity, and the Hunters Carbine, which can fire solid slugs and hold seven rounds. None of these are illustrated and in the case of the latter, no explanation of how they work is given.

Mechanically, the roleplaying game uses a percentile system. Rolls under a skill value count as a success, difficult challenges halving the skill and hard challenges quartering it. Gear bonuses can improve a skill. A Roll under the associated attribute of a skill count as a critical and rolls of 99% or higher as fumbles. So for Guillame, a roll of six or less when his player rolls against any Investigative skill counts as a success. A critical grants a bonus to a subsequent skill check, a true answer to a relevant question asked of the Game Master, extra information, or a Blessing. A fumble means that the character has triggered a trap or alarm, learned false information, suffers a penalty a subsequent skill check, or loses a Blessing. A Blessing is a simple, randomly determined percentage value that can be used as a bonus to a roll, a penalty on an opponent’s roll, change an outcome, and have a Vision Quest (if the character has the talent). Alternatively, a Blessing can be used to flip a roll, re-roll a roll, or passed to another character. Rolling a critical or a fumble also enables a player to roll his character’s Experience die and add the result to the skill the critical was rolled on. This happens as soon as the critical is rolled. 

Combat allows for differences in the weight of the melee weapons in blocking damage, for achieving dominance over opponents by surprise, weapon length, opponent fumbles, mobbing them, or pinning them against a wall, and critical rolls. Dominance grants an extra attack, double damage, disarms an opponent, pins them, and so on, depending on the circumstances. Every player character has the same maximum number of Wounds—twelve. The more Wounds he suffers, the greater the penalty he suffers on all of his actions, until he has taken his twelfth Wound and dies. Whenever damage suffered exceeds a player character’s Injury level, he suffers a wound. So for Guillame, any roll of four or more for damage which thus exceeds his Injury level inflicts a Wound. Since even cudgels and daggers inflict one to six points of damage, the chances of a player character receiving a Wound in combat is fairly high. When Wounds are healed, the more Wounds a character has suffered the harder it is to heal them. 

Similarly, all characters have a maximum Insanity total of twelve. Whenever a character encounters a situation or a creature which would cause fear, the Game Master rolls the Insanity factor for that situation or creature. This will be either a six-, eight-, or ten-sided die, depending upon the Fear Level of the situation or creature, with the ten-sided die reserved for those rare encounters with cosmic gods. If the roll exceeds a character’s Reason value, then he gains a point of Insanity. Where Wounds impose a penalty upon a character’s actions, greater Insanity will inflict paranoia, paranoid delusions, aggressive paranoia, and finally catatonia on a character. In addition, such encounters can inflict Dark Knowledge. For example, Guillaume encounters a Werewolf, for which the Fear Level is two. The Game Master rolls an eight-sided die for the Insanity factor and gets five, higher than Guillaume’s Reason, so he gains a point of Insanity. The Game Master also has to roll a four-sided die for the potential Dark Knowledge gain, in this being two points.

For every ten points of Dark Knowledge a character possesses, he gains a point of Insight and each point of Insight reduces his Reason. This not only reduces his capacity to withstand fear, but it inflicts certain symptoms on him. For example, hearing whispers or the sound of a distant flute, being able to see a red aura around the infected, or gaining a greater understanding of the language of the Elder Gods. Some of these ongoing effects inflict Insanity themselves. Insight can be reduced by a character defeating cosmic horrors, destroying cults, eradicating the plague and its effects, even entering an asylum, whilst Insanity can be reduced by using sedatives or entering an asylum. Insight though, can be put to positive use, such as seeing the Hidden or even mentally reconstructing a scene or ritual, though such a reconstruction increases a character’s Insight.

The Mysteries in this roleplaying game cover alchemy, divination, and tomes—both occult and Mythos, as well as three schools of magic—arcane, ritual, and talismanic. They all have their spell lists with individual spells being drawn from particular tomes and most inflicting further Dark Knowledge on the caster. The section on magic feels all too brief in comparison to the roleplaying game’s ‘Atlas’, which details the range of areas where the League of Seekers operate. This includes Europe, with particular attention paid to London and Paris with their walled-off Quarantine zones, the Colonies of North America, and even out into the Dreamlands. Unfortunately, not all of this is very interesting, or even gameable. The London and Paris sections are serviceable, although both could have done with actual threats to the League of Seekers rather than just allies, but the description of the North American colonies is nothing more than a stodgy wodge of early colonial history. By comparison, the section on the Dreamlands is well written and gameable, though likely to be the most familiar section to players of other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror. It is a pity that one of the most gameable sections in the roleplaying game describes a region that the player characters are least likely to visit.

It is not until over two hundred pages into this roleplaying game that it actually tells the reader what it is about, what the Akhua Brotherhood and the League of Seekers are and what they do. Even then, they are barely given half a page each, which is inarguably inadequate given that both are the organisations which the player characters belong to. Several enemy cults are also described, often given more information in the form of notable members than that given to either Akhua Brotherhood or the League of Seekers. In terms of monsters, the roleplaying game gives several types, being either folk tale creatures like Baba Yaga or the Beast of Gévaudan, cosmic horror entities like Byakhee or Deep Ones, or threats like the Infected. The latter have been infected by the Blood Plague—also known as the Blood Rage—and as the Blood Moon rises, their bestial, aggressive urges manifest, a threat to good society. Wiping out the scourge of the Infected is the League of Seeker’s primary task.

Lastly, the roleplaying game includes a scenario, ‘Beast of Dunwich’. This is not set in the blighted town of Lovecraft Country, but the sea sodden, wave wrenched town in Suffolk. Following a rash of deaths in the town, the League of Seekers sends the characters to investigate. The journey is not without incident, but the mystery itself in the town will take relatively little effort to uncover and probably end in a confrontation or two. The scenario can probably be played in a single session.

Physically, this roleplaying game is neat and tidy, with some reasonable if oppressive artwork and solid cartography. Unfortunately it lacks an index, but that is not the very least of its problems. Similarly, the lack of editing—the roleplaying game genuinely reads like raw text—is also the very least of its problems. 

To identify what those problems are, it is necessary to explain what this roleplaying game wants to be and that is Brotherhood of the Wolf meets the Mythos, the Age of Enlightenment fights evil. Which is a laudable aim and puts it into the same niche as other roleplaying games such as Paradigm Concepts’ Hunter: The Invisible World and Cakebread & Walton’s Dark Streets, but unfortunately is not in the same league as either. From the outset, it is clear what both of those are about and what the player characters are supposed to be doing. Not so this roleplaying game, for at no time does the author ever give an elevator pitch for the roleplaying game—there is no ‘Brotherhood of the Wolf meets the Mythos’ or the ‘Age of Enlightenment fights’ evil—anywhere in the roleplaying game. Not on the back cover blurb, not in the introduction, not anywhere… Even the descriptions of the Akhu Brotherhood and the League of Seekers deep into the book do not feel adequate to the task. Indeed, the very summary at the top of this review was not so much written as assembled from bits and pieces throughout the roleplaying game. Essentially, the author completely fails to sell the roleplaying game on its own merits. There is no cool incentive for the prospective Game Master to buy this roleplaying game or the prospective player to want to play it.

Then there is the roleplaying game’s lack of development. There is a fair amount of background here—certainly in terms of geography—but it either lacks much of the context to be playable or simply reads like a history lesson. Turning this into something gameable would take an unnecessary effort upon the part of the Game Master. It also feels as if the roleplaying game over-eggs its pudding in terms of its horror, almost as if there is too much for the Game Master to choose from, whether it is the Cosmic Horror of the Mythos, the Folktale horror of werewolves and the like, or the threats of the Infected. Arguably, this roleplaying game could have lost the Cosmic Horror aspect and it would have still worked, the Infected under the Blood Moon and the Folktale horrors not only being enough of a threat, but also elements strong to carry the roleplaying game by itself and give it the hook that the author unfortunately fails to do.

Ultimately, this is a roleplaying game which fails to fulfill the author’s ambitions. This is a roleplaying game which needed the input of more than the author, primarily in terms of asking questions and developing gameable content and what the player characters are meant to be doing. It feels too much like a ‘homebrew’ roleplaying game pushed towards a level of professionalism that it is simply not ready for. Yet there is a kernel of something here, and perhaps in the hands of a good and patient Game Master, there is a playable game to be drawn from its pages—if that Game Master is looking for a ‘fixer-upper’. Unfortunately, getting to that roleplaying game and making into something playable would be a challenge for anyone but the designer. 

Up until this point, this review has not mentioned the name of the roleplaying game nor its publisher. The name the of publisher is Feral Gamers, Inc. and the roleplaying game is League of Seekers

Friday, 16 August 2019

Ministerial Leagues

Have you had an encounter with the inexplicable and want answers? Have you been the victim of an evil magician and prevented his dominance over you through sheer willpower? Has your sister fallen foul of the influence of a blood sucking fiend? Have you foiled the perfidious plans of a perverse cult that threatened the security of the Empire? Did your esoteric research uncover truths which undermine your fundamental understanding of the universe? Are you a loyal subject of Her Imperial Majesty, Queen Victoria? Then you sir (and madam, of course), may be just what we are looking for. Who are we, you ask? Why we are the Ministry of Unusual Affairs, and whilst Her Majesty’s government would deny the existence of magic, the supernatural, and such as folderol as the stuff of the tabloid press, charlatans, and mountebanks, privately it needs a body of men (and women) who attend to such matters with decorum and professionalism.

This, essentially, is the set-up for the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs, a supplement for Triple Ace Games’ Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration  and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! and its expansion, Leagues of Gothic Horror (and its expansion, Leagues of Cthulhu). Now at the core of Leagues of Adventure are the ‘leagues’, the exclusive or secret—or not so secret—society, such as The Alpine Club, the Epicurean Society, or The Temporal Society. Every character or ‘globetrotter’ in Leagues of Adventure is a member of one such league, with each league providing contacts, resources, and patrons that will call on the globetrotters just as the globetrotters can call upon the aid of their Leagues. For the most part, the various Leagues possess a friendly rivalry with each other where their interests conflict, but there exist villainous Leagues whose aims are far from honourable or enlightened. The Thuggee is one such villainous League, as is The Immortals Club, whose members seek ever greater power and the means to keep it for themselves. Of course, Leagues of Gothic Horror and Leagues of Cthulhu add further leagues. Now this provides a social framework for the player characters, but the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs provides a professional framework for both the player characters and the Game Master’s campaign.

The Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs is presented as informal introduction, one that you might receive upon your first day at work or at a prospective interview. So it opens with a history of the ministry, beginning with its origins as a cadre of witch-hunters under James I and the actions taken against Doctor John Dee, before going on to detail the investigations along the Severn Valley by one Ramsey Campbell, the truth behind the madness of George III, and the outbreak of Devil’s Footprints up and down the country, until last coming up to date with the invaders from Mars and the Ripper murders. At various points throughout the history, it mentions the founding of certain departments, such as the witch-hunters which were the basis of Department P. There are five departments, each with multiple sub-departments. So Department C—‘The Collection’—also includes The Black Archive, Department of Artefacts, and Department of Literature. The other departments include Department F—‘Foreign Intelligence’, Department M—‘Mythos’, Department P—‘Paranormal’, and Department—‘Science’.

Two of these departments are of particular note, though for different reasons. Department P includes sub-departments which deal with Apparitions, Vampires, Shapeshifters, Walking Dead, Mummies, Magic, Mentalism, and Cults. These enable the Game Master to plug other Leagues of Gothic Horror supplements into the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs. For example, the Guide to Apparitions and the Guide to Mummies support investigations and missions which dealt with by Sub-Department E1 and Sub-Department E5 respectively. This organisation means that the Game Master need only open up each department or sub-department when she wants to add the threats that each deals with to her campaign and so better pick and choose the supplements she wants to purchase and use. Until that time, of course, an agent of the Ministry of Unusual Affairs lacks the clearance to access that department. The other department is Department M—‘Mythos’. Now unlike the other departments, this one is entirely optional, since it deals with the Lovecraft Mythos, and that means that all of the other threats, whether that is vampirism or invaders from another world, pale by comparison. 

In terms of characters, the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs points out that the Government Official is the most obvious type of archetype for a campaign revolving around its various departments. And certainly there is no harm in having such a character as one of the player characters. It suggests though, that since the ministry employs all types, there is room for military officers and big game hunters as much as there is alienists, clergymen, mentalists, and monster slayers, so there is plenty of room for flexibility. All new agents of the ministry receive get Rank (Ministry of Unusual Affairs) 0 for free, are assigned to a department of their choice and trained in a mix of standard skills for all agents and those taught by their department. Of course, having a number of different agents from different departments means that a team is better able to investigate and deal with a wider range of the unusual. As an agent is promoted, then he can be posted to other departments and so gain wider experience of the ministry’s operations. He is though, not given any training in the new department.

In terms of mechanics, the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs details the Escape Artist Talent for agents with a high Acrobatics skill and Collector Mania as a Flaw, in which an agent succumbs to the urge to fill in the gaps and display cases in museums and libraries. Also detailed are the means to handle ministry budgets for missions, mundane gear like straitjackets, and weird science gear, like Coagulant Spray (useful for medical purposes, but not against vampires), Dig-o-Matic (for automatically disinterring graves without all of that messing about with shovels and getting dirt on your clothes), the Encyclopediamtica (a suitcase-sized device which contains hundreds of books miniaturised on small glass plates), and a Specimen Collection Vehicle (for collecting and transporting specimens and samples in relative safety). Fans of The Avengers—the British sixties television series, not the Marvel films—as will every well turned gentleman, will appreciate the inclusion of various modified umbrellas, including armoured, beguiling, and gas-launching. Rounding out this section is a complete list of the other weird science devices and creations to be found in other Leagues of Adventure and Leagues of Gothic Horror supplements, again enforcing the connection between this supplement and others in the line.

Roughly half of the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs is dedicated to NPCs, agents and department heads of the ministry. Notable department heads and agents include Philomena Freeman, the cranky, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed, allegedly three-armed head of Department C who really hates lending anyone the objects and items in her department’s collection; Mina Harker, head of Sub-Department E2 and perfect for tipping a Leagues of Gothic Horror campaign into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen territory; and Jerimiah Benn, an ex-actor whose skill in disguise is so good that he has fooled fellow agents and the members of the cults he infiltrates alike. All of these NPCs are nicely done, all different and memorable for the Game Master to roleplay, several of them suffering from the effects of years of service in the ministry. Lastly the sample characters provide a ready supply of generic NPCs and character archetypes, the latter either ready for the players to play as agents or the Game Master to develop as more detailed NPCs, the latter including Cover-Up Specialist, Field Agent, and Spiritual Guide.

Penultimately, the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs provides some advice on handling investigations. Much of this is obvious, but one of the ministry’s missions is to prevent knowledge of the supernatural and the weird becoming knowledge, so understandably there is an emphasis in this advice on covering up signs and evidence of it. This includes containment, concocting cover stories, hiding the truth, handling witnesses, and pulling rank and status—of course a lady of good character or a gentleman who is a renowned big game hunter would confirm that what you saw was a wolf rather than a werewolf! Certainly all prospective agents should be aware of this given it is part of the ministry’s remit.

Physically, the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs is generally well presented and written, though some of the artwork is disappointing. Unlike a lot of the supplements for Leagues of Gothic Horror, the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs is not a must-have purchase. In comparison, if the Game  Master wants to focus more on vampires in her game, then she buys Guide to Vampires and if she wants to focus on werewolves, then Guide to Shapeshifters is an obvious purchase. Instead of providing supernatural threats to fight, the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs instead gives a reason for the player characters to investigate and combat the unusual, a campaign set-up for the Game Master to work with, and a big cast of NPCs for the player characters to interact with. Overall, the Guide to the Ministry of Unusual Affairs is perfect for the Game Master who wants a campaign set-up with pulpy undertones and hopefully, there will be scenarios, perhaps even a campaign, supporting the activities of Her Majesty’s most secret ministry.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Miskatonic Monday #24: Dark Offerings

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Depository.

—oOo—

Name: Dark Offerings

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Rob Leigh

Setting: Modern Day (Any)
Product: Scenario
What You Get: 5.82 MB, 24-page colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: The Wicker Man with added goat

Plot Hook: A missing daughter in a cult's clutches 
Plot Development: A missing cult, insular islands, even more insular islanders, and things that walk in the woods.
Plot Support: Decent maps, a new spell, twelve NPCs and monsters, seven handouts.
Production Values: Decent.

Pros
# Inspired by The Wicker Man and The Shadow over Innsmouth
# Lots of surly natives
# Hidden against the clock rescue mission

# Easily adapted to other periods
# Easy to add to a campaign

Cons
# No NPC illustrations
# Straightforward plot
# Tight time constraints for the expected travel
# No mutant goat stats


Conclusion
# Decent, detailed scenario
# Excellent inspiration, but not inspiring

Sunday, 11 August 2019

DELTA GREEN's last charge

It cannot be stressed how radical Delta Green was when it was first presented in The Unspeakable Oath #7 in 1993 and then in 1997 in the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying SupplementDelta Green. It updated the presence of the Cthulhu Mythos for the then present, explained how it remained hidden in the then and now, and gave a reason that explained why anyone would investigate it. Essentially it layered the Mythos behind various conspiracies, including that of the New World Order and a healthy dollop of UFOlogy, and then folded the investigators into another conspiracy that was investigating the other and its secrets. Published by Pagan Publishing, in the next nineteen years, Delta Green would be supported by more fiction than gaming supplements, an issue with the limits of licensing agreement with Chaosium, Inc., but following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Arc Dream Publishing is presenting the Delta Green setting anew, updating it for the new millennium with Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game.

The founding of DELTA GREEN is well documented, being born out of the 1928 raid by the Office of Naval Intelligence and the United States Marine Corps on the insular and inbreed Massachusetts town of Innsmouth and its strange batrachian inhabitants who have too much in common with the denizens of the terrible aquatic city of the New England coast—as explored in Chaosium, Inc.’s Escape from Innsmouth campaign. It went to war as DELTA GREEN, fighting both Nazi and Japanese occult operations under the aegis of the OSS before being shut down and then reconstituted in the wake of the US government’s contact with extraterrestrials. Yet it ignored the threat of ‘little grey men’, concentrating instead on the threats it had faced before—Deep Ones, Nazi occultists, cults, and more—and as the threat of the Cold War grew, the US government’s operations in Vietnam expanded, and strange new religions and cults sprouted along with the counterculture on home soil, so did DELTA GREENs remit. The existence of the Unnatural and the threat it represented to humanity could not be denied to the US government, but it could be denied to the population at large. DELTA GREEN is an off-the-books, fully sanctioned operation, its agents drawn from inside the US military and federal and intelligence agencies, given temporary identities for purposes of each operation, often able to operate under the guise of another legitimate operation which sometimes gave it access to incredible military firepower, its mission still one of investigation, containment, destruction, and denial. At all costs. At any cost. Yet by the end of the sixties, DELTA GREEN had been disbanded, shutdown after a disastrous operation that forced it to go underground, to operate as an illegal conspiracy within the Federal government without sanction—as detailed in 1997’s Delta Green supplement. To date though, the details of that operation have remained unexplored, that is until the publication of The Fall of DELTA GREEN.

Winner of the 2019 Gold ENNIE Award for Best SettingThe Fall of DELTA GREEN turns back the clock on Delta Green to explore its last hurrah, the decade of the swinging sixties in which the USA would land men on the Moon, but get mired in conflict in Southeast Asia, in which the optimism of hippism and free love would be marred by murder, and in which Delta Green would be overwhelmed by threats domestic and foreign—and its own hubris. It is an adaptation of Arc Dream Publishing’s Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game not just in terms of time frame, but also mechanics and publisher. The Fall of DELTA GREEN is written by Ken Hite and published by Pelgrane Press and uses the publisher’s house investigation-orientated GUMSHOE System, devised by Robin D. Laws and since used on roleplaying games ranging from Ashen Stars and Night’s Black Agents to Mutant City Blues and TimeWatch.

The GUMSHOE System is a simple enough system. It eschews the traditional attributes, skills, advantages, and disadvantages of other roleplaying games. Instead player characters have Investigative and General Abilities. The Investigative Abilities—divided into Academic, Interpersonal, and Technical, such as Accounting, HUMINT, and Traffic Analysis—are pools of points. In a scene where there are clues to be found, if a character has the Ability, then he gets any core clue to be found. His player can also expend points from the appropriate Ability to gain further information. General Abilities, such as Athletics, First Aid, and Preparedness, are also pools of points, but primarily expended as effort to overcome an immediate objective.

For the most, anyone who has played another GUMSHOE System roleplaying game will have no difficulty adapting to The Fall of DELTA GREEN. There are differences though, most notably in the lethality of the combat system to take account of modern firearms and support weapons. Obviously lethal to mankind, some of these weapons are also capable of killing creatures and things of the Unnatural—the equivalent of the Mythos in both The Fall of DELTA GREEN and Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game—but not all, some being resistant to damage, others simply being not quite of this mortal realm… In comparison to other GUMSHOE System roleplaying games—especially Trail of CthulhuThe Fall of DELTA GREEN is deadlier in terms of its mechanics. Other changes, such as Bonds, are imported from Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game. They represent an Agent’s vital relationships—with loved ones, family members, and close friends—that connect him to his humanity and which can be strained, pulled, and broken as he goes on operation after operation, and is exposed to the Unnatural again and again.

The Fall of DELTA GREEN opens in 1961. The players take the role of Agents. They are typically current or ex-members of the military, veteran Agents even having served in World War II or Korea, or members of a Federal department, like the Atomic Energy Commission, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, or State Department. There is a wide range of options available, so one player can roleplay a Domestic Intelligence Division ‘Black-bagger’ of the FBI, another a Special Forces soldier of the US Army’s ‘Green Berets’ or the Navy SEALs, or another an Advanced Research Project Agency Researcher. This differs fundamentally from the Delta Green of 1997 where more Friendlies, non-Federal Agents, are recruited. It is entirely possible to play a Friendly, for example, an archaeologist or a gangster, but it is not the main focus of The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Agent creation is a matter of selecting one or two background templates and assigning the required to them. One represents the Agent’s military service—every American between eighteen and twenty-nine being subject to Selective Service conscription—the other his occupation after military service. Agents still in the military add an active service template the branch they are in. The Fall of DELTA GREEN does cover the gender and racial bias prevalent in the period, noting that addressing both and how should be up to the Handler and her players and whatever best supports their play experience.

Our sample Agent is Captain Lawrence Clark, a Nevadan who was recruited out of college by the United States Air Force to serve in Korea. There he flew Boeing B-29 Superfortress night bombing missions over North Korea. After the war, he was removed from active flight duties by a deterioration in his eyesight. After a number of support postings, Clark was reassigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations where he specialises in accounting audits, having trained as an accountant at college. When he flagged up accounting errors as funds being moved into untraceable accounts, he came to the attention of Delta Green. At the same time, an expected promotion has been put on hold, so he suspects that he is being punished for asking too many questions.

Captain Lawrence Clark
AFOSI Investigator, Air Force Office of Special Investigations

Academic Abilities
Astronomy 1, Criminology 1, Foreign Language 1 (Russian), Law 1, Military Science 2

Interpersonal Abilities
Accounting 3, Agency 4, HUMINT 2, Inspiration 1, Interrogation 1, Reassurance 3

Technical Abilities
Notice 1, Survival 1

General Abilities
Athletics 4, Bureaucracy 7, Conceal 2, Drive 2, Firearms 2, First Aid 1, Health 30, Mechanics 1, Network 5, Pilot 3, Preparedness 6, Sanity 6, Sense Trouble 7, Stability 5, Unarmed Combat 6

Bonds
My wife Gloria (4), my son Richard (4), my mother (4)

Motivation: Patriotism

The Fall of DELTA GREEN does add a number of odd skills or Abilities. For example, Fringe Science represents expertise in experimental, eccentric, if not impossible science, whilst The Unnatural represents knowledge, even understanding of the secret nature of the universe. It can be used to recall information from DELTA GREEN case files or tomes of The Unnatural as well as to intuitively piece together terrible conclusions about an operation or cult or… The Hypergeometry Ability not only grants the capacity to understand the universe, but also manipulate it—otherwise known as magic! Both The Unnatural and Hypergeometry cost both Stability and Sanity to use. Like all roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror, The Fall of DELTA GREEN has rules for handling the loss of Stability—an Agent’s ability to withstand psychological trauma, and Sanity—an Agent’s capacity to retain his humanity in the face of exposure to The Unnatural. Whether losing Stability and Sanity from Violence or Helplessness, it is possible to adapt to either, but not to The Unnatural. Another carry over from Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game is the inclusion of an Agent’s Bonds, his personal relationships, which can actually be damaged by his experiencing shocking events, his carrying the trauma home with him after an operation. At the same time, it is possible to strengthen (or recover) Bonds which have been damaged by the Agent’s mental trauma. Such actions are only possible between operations. What they represent are not just fantastic models of an Agent’s ongoing trauma and how it affects just more than him, but also great opportunities to roleplay.

For ‘Spy-Fi’ fans, The Fall of DELTA GREEN includes an excellent chapter on gear and how to be a spy, or at least, a DELTA GREEN Agent. There are guidelines on obtaining equipment, necessary because DELTA GREEN does everything off the books and so has borrow, build, or buy much of its needs, as well as descriptions of what that equipment might be. Useful because this is, after all, decades before the Digital Age. Actual Tradecraft covers how to run an operation, including staying clean and hidden from other agencies or interested parties, conducting a stakeout, handling an interrogation, and so on. It culminates in a solid essay of advice for the players, which includes not The Moscow Rules because Moscow is a lesser threat, but The Innsmouth Rules. Every Handler—as the Game Master is known in The Fall of DELTA GREEN—should make these available to her players.

Over half of The Fall of DELTA GREEN is for the Handler’s eyes only. This includes a complete history of both DELTA GREEN and MAJESTIC, the latter being DELTA GREEN’s fellow off-the-books agency. They are rivals, MAJESTIC focusing on extraterrestrial threats and turning any recovered technology to the advantage of the USA, whereas DELTA GREEN focuses on Earthbound threats and would rather see recovered artefacts and technology destroyed lest it fall into the wrong hands. If DELTA GREEN is old school, then MAJESTIC is a new school, cooler, better funded rival to DELTA GREEN and not the deadly enemy it will become following DELTA GREEN’s fall. The departments and major personalities for both are detailed, and along with a detailed year-by-year timeline of the sixties, provide the Handler with the more ‘mundane’ background to The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Included in the timeline are options for how the Agents might become involved in some of the agency’s biggest operations of the decade.

Almost a third of The Fall of DELTA GREEN is devoted to The Unnatural. It takes in a huge amount of information, not just the dread tomes that humanity has penned about the true nature of the universe in the last few thousand years, but also the nature of Hypergeometry, its spells and rituals, and its expression as the Psionic powers discovered by the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program and MAJESTIC’s various projects; it goes to hidden places such as Irem and the Nameless City and Leng, and beyond; and the specific threats faced by DELTA GREEN. These include particular aliens like the Colour Out of Space, Deep Ones, and Great Race of Yith, and the great entities known as the ‘Great Old Ones’, but perhaps more suggestively categorised as the ‘ones of the stars’, ‘ones of the earth’, and ‘ones of dream’.

Throughout, this is presented through the lens of DELTA GREEN perspective, rather than just as another roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror. So there is more of an emphasis on the Deep Ones, the Mi-Go, and the Tcho-Tcho than in other roleplaying games that see the player characters confronting the Mythos, reflecting what both DELTA GREEN and MAJESTIC have traditionally investigated and seen as a threat. To that end advice is given to the Handler as to how to make such ‘familiar’ races of The Unnatural horrifying once again. Other entities it reinterprets, for example, Ygolonac as the Headless One. What all this does is attempt to recast the Mythos afresh as The Unnatural, to make it unfamiliar once again, and so make it more of a mystery and support the players’ efforts to reflect that unfamiliarity and that mystery. In addition, particular avenues of investigation and their associated Abilities, such as Forensics highlighting the dry, scaly, brittle, and sunken skin found in those men and animals exposed to a Colour Out of Space or Notice to spot the round furniture and food in a room when tracking signs of a Hound of Tindalos. More familiar threats are presented in terms of the worst or foolish of humanity prepared to worship The Unnatural, also many familiar from ‘future’ iterations of Delta Green. These include the Cthulhu Cult which DELTA GREEN has been fighting since 1928; the Karotechia, the last remnants of the Nazi occult programs; the Fate, the New York-based occult network which all but runs the Mafia for fun and profit; and the Cult of Transcendance, an Illuminati-like network which operates a global conspiracy. The Fall of DELTA GREEN makes clear that in some ways, humanity is a bigger threat to itself than The Unnatural, whether that is being prepared to adopt and adapt the power it offers to ‘benefit’ mankind, to benefit select individuals, or to use it to fight other threats represented by The Unnatural.

As well as all of the background and the means for the Agents to investigate The Unnatural, along with a solid biography, the Handler is given some excellent advice on running The Fall of DELTA GREEN. It highlights the uncertainty, the lack of control, and the reactive nature of DELTA GREEN investigations, as well as providing solid advice on building threats, constructing cults, creating operations, and running the game. It backs this up with ‘Operation’s Aladdin’s Cave’, a mission which takes the Agents for ‘A Day at the Races’ in Vietnam to investigate a potential outbreak of The Unnatural and exposes the Agents to a healthy dose of inter-agency paranoia as they try and find out what is going on. The scenario does not feel wholly original, but the other, similar scenario is not specifically Lovecraftian, so may well be somewhat obscure for many to know of it.

Physically, The Fall of DELTA GREEN is superbly presented—for the most part. It needs a light edit here and there, but is generally well written and highly readable. The layout is built around a lot of period photographs and documents, typically laid out as collages in a style that gives the book a thoroughly authentic feel of the period. Where The Fall of DELTA GREEN is disappointing is in the artwork, which in places feels disappointingly amateurish.

One quibble might be that the focus of The Fall of DELTA GREEN is too much on DELTA GREEN and Vietnam, as opposed to the wider world and allied agencies investigating The Unnatural. Some attention is given to those operating in both Canada and the United Kingdom, enough that the Handler can involve them or take her Agents on operations in either country. To be fair, the emphasis on DELTA GREEN and Vietnam is wholly understandable given that this is a roleplaying game about the agency’s last hurrah and like the country it served and protected, that last hurrah would come in Vietnam.

The Fall of DELTA GREEN is a superb reimagining of Delta Green, one which wraps the unreal history with the real, to explore a period long talked about, but never fully explained. That explanation is a Spy-Fi technothriller, a Cold War era fight against a threat bigger than the Cold War, a paranoia-infused series of clean-up and knowledge denial operations that escalate into brushfire wars. Ultimately, The Fall of DELTA GREEN is a roleplaying game about the horror of hubris as much as it is the loss of humanity.