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

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Disappearing a Disappearance

In classic Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying, news of the weird and the unnatural is spread by letter, by newspaper, and by word of mouth. Information spreads slowly. Not so in the modern age. Information spreads as fast as social media picks up on it. So when an Internet video of woman, crying and shouting about a community that does terrible things, including taking women and children, whilst society takes its money and looks the other way, before suddenly vanishing, screaming in agony, goes viral, it is sufficient to attract the attention of Delta Green. In response, the highly secret government agency assigns a cell of agents to investigate and establish what happened in the video, but not only investigate. If there are any signs of continuing danger, the agents need to save lives; if there are indications that this was an incursion of the Unnatural, they need to locate its source and stop it; and if this was due to an incursion of the Unnatural, they need to establish a mundane narrative for the video, make sure that nobody suspects Unnatural phenomena to be the cause; but above all, they need to make sure that nobody learns of Delta Green.

This is the set-up for Delta Green: Hourglass, a short investigation for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and Lovecraftian investigative horror published by Arc Dream Publishing. It can be played using the roleplaying game’s full rules or those from Delta Green: Need to Know. It also includes notes for running the scenario with agents who members of the Program—and thus members of Delta Green, and those who are Outlaws—thus not members of Delta Green. Like Ex Oblivione before it, Hourglass is another slice of horror which explores the subjugation and corruption of the innocent—though in not quite as brutal or obvious a fashion—and like Ex Oblivione before it, Hourglass also has links back to the very foundation of Delta Green, though not as obvious. In fact, the agents will probably have to dig deep into the scenario in order to find them, but their very presence suggests both a greater framework for both Hourglass and Ex Oblivione—though one that it not necessarily obvious—and the far wider influence of the peoples and things which drew the attention in 1928 of what would one day become Delta Green to the unnatural.

Were it not for the video, the community of Hourglass would be unremarkable. In fact, the only thing of note is the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, a staunchly conservative and insular commune of Christians with grounds just outside the town. A commune which the woman who disappeared belonged to. Could this be the community that woman was raging about before she disappeared? That the woman was a member of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is easy enough to determine, learning more than this will prove to be a challenge for both the agents and their players. Although insular, the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is an accepted part of the Hourglass community, it pays its taxes, and if its interpretation of Christianity is counter to that of the town’s devout Catholics or evangelical Christians, then it is at least Christian. So the town authorities are reluctant for any agents—if they become aware of their presence—to investigate either the disappearance of the women, believing the video to be a fake, or the Church of the Twelve Martyrs.

Most investigations by Delta Green require a degree of delicacy and so it is here. Agents who jump readily to conclusions or run headlong into examining the Church of the Twelve Martyrs may quickly find their efforts blocked or even themselves reassigned and under investigation. If they take a more systematic approach and dig into the clues and evidence before they approach the church’s compound, they will be better prepared. Even so, getting anything more than hints that there might be something weird going on with the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is going to be difficult for the agents. The compound seems to be normal enough, including a ranch and a farm as well as the church, but there is tension and a sense of paranoia in the air. Hopefully this should be enough to persuade the agents to tread carefully, for if they do not, the members of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs will react in an all too paranoid a fashion. There should be no doubt that its members will go to almost any lengths to protect the church’s secrets—with any luck the agents will have picked up on this after investigating the video. When the members of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs do react, the Handler is given some fun—sorry, I mean nasty—ways in which to mess with and torment the agents. Some of these are quite subtle, but others are enjoyably weird and brutal. These though will need careful staging by the Handler since the players may feel like she is messing with their characters. It is here perhaps that Hourglass could have done with some staging advice on how to handle that. (I would suggest taking the player aside to explain the situation and then letting him roleplay it out.)

Just as it is difficult for the agents to investigate the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, it is equally as difficult for the Handler in two ways. First in maintaining a balance between the paranoia of the various NPCs and their unleashing all hell on the agents, and second, in supporting the investigative efforts of the players and their agents without frustrating them in the face of some very careful and very paranoid NPCs. Another problem with the scenario is that it does have a high number of NPCs for the Handler to deal with. The difficulty of the investigation in Hourglass is really highlighted by the fact that resolution deals more with what could wrong and the subsequent repercussions than with effect of a successful outcome, though of course, the odds are against this. 

Physically, Hourglass is a slim, cleanly presented book. As ever, the artwork is excellent, but the area map feels as if it should have more detail and although there are floorplans of the church on the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, there is no map of the compound itself. It needs a slight edit, but the scenario is otherwise well written.

Delta Green: Hourglass showcases how far the forces of the Unnatural will go to work themselves into society, how far they will go to prey upon the weak, and how willing they are to corrupt the innocent. Coming to this realisation will be undoubtedly be horrifying for the agents and their players, but getting to it is not easy. Delta Green: Hourglass presents a challenging scenario for both Handler and players alike, and with its potential for frustration, is best suited to an experienced gaming group.

No comments:

Post a Comment