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Saturday 15 June 2024

Heaven & Hell

The Religious Crimes Task Force is a shitshow, a dead end for any federal agent with ambitions or hopes of a better career. Established by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate and prosecute fraud and abuse in tax-exempt religious institutions, in effect it does no such thing. Instead, it alerts religious organisations that they are running foul of the law and might be in danger of having charges brought against them by the Federal authorities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the head of the taskforce would not have it any other way as it prevents the government’s ‘persecution’ of white Evangelical Christians. For its investigators, it means rolling into small towns across the USA, investigating some small church and its congregation, and discovering that yet one more fringe, possibly cult-like organisation is effectively harmless. The Religious Crimes Task Force is effectively a smokescreen, but it is a smokescreen that Delta Green can take advantage of. It can flag up reports that suggest a religious organisation might be breaking the tax laws, but which to its analysts’ eyes might be connected to an Unnatural threat, and then have Federal agents wholly unconnected to the Delta Green program investigate, and if they uncover anything worthy of Delta Green’s attention, then it can send in its own experienced agents to deal with the issue. If the investigating agents survive the experience and are judicious in their reporting of it, then they may be suitable for recruitment. It is thus a smokescreen not once, but twice.

This is the set-up for Meridian, a scenario published by Arc Dream Publishing for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game. This is the modern roleplaying game of conspiratorial and Lovecraftian investigative horror with its conspiratorial agencies within the United States government investigating, confronting, and covering up the Unnatural. It is ideally used as an introductory investigation with perhaps two or three Player Characters. To that end it includes three pre-generated Player Characters—two Agents and an optional character. The Two Agents consist of an FBI agent and an IRS investigator, whilst the optional character is a local social worker, who can either be a Player Character or an NPC. All three are possible recruits to Delta Green, the social worker as a Delta Green friendly. This set-up is not dissimilar to Control Group, the anthology of scenarios designed to create a pool of diverse Delta Green agents with varied origins and introductions to the Unnatural who can then go on to conduct investigations in secret for the conspiratorial organisation. So, Meridian can be used as an addition to that supplement or as a means to explain the addition of new agents to a campaign. To that end, the Unnatural element to the scenario is surprisingly low key.

The scenario is nominally set in the summer of 2018 as the Agents roll into Joplin, Missouri where the Kansas-Missouri-Oklahoma borders meet. They have been assigned to investigate Holy Light Ministries, which files taxes as both a church and shelter for troubled youth, but does not own any property, has just the one officer, the church leader, Daniel Boone Keeler, and uses a mailing address that is actually that of Keeler’s mother. Keeler himself has a criminal record of petty offences going back years, but that halted in 2011. The question is, is Keeler just some small-time preacher and hustler on the make or is there actual legitimacy to his church. The answer to that is yes, there is actual legitimacy to his church, but this being a scenario for Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game, not in any way that you would think was anything other than Unnatural.

Just as the three states of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma seem to overlap, so do the jurisdictions that the Agents have to work. So not just Federal law enforcement, but also local and possibly state, and then Missouri Department of Social Services, because not only does Keeler have a long record with both, but his Holy Light Ministries seems to be primarily concerned with ‘troubled’ youths—teenagers and young adults. A malaise lingers over Joplin, a miasma of economic deprivation, hopelessness, improvidence, and drug addiction which the Agents must navigate in the course of their investigation, but as they make progress, they discover that Holy Light Ministries does offer something. Possibly hope, possibly respite, and a sense of joy in god that transcends earthly, pharmaceutical addiction. Not necessarily though a Christian joy in god, since Keeler does not proselytise in the traditional fashion. Even the run down and dilapidated church he operates out of is more a refuge than a place of worship. As the Agents conduct interview after interview, what also comes up is the mention of the ‘Ghostlight’, a local legend which dates back to the 1940s, red-orange ball of light that appears in the skies at night over the woods on the Oklahoma-Missouri border. Is this what Delta Green wanted investigating? Is the ‘light’ of Holy Light Ministries one and the same as the ‘light’ of ‘Ghostlight’?

The underplayed nature of the investigation in Meridian also means that there is a passivity which runs throughout the scenario. In part, this includes the authorities, but it definitely includes Keeler and the Holy Light Ministries as well as the nature of the Unnatural in Meridian. Unlike in other scenarios for Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game, the Unnatural in Meridian is not an active force, but rather one that welcomes you to it and embraces you in hope. This makes it no less dangerous and frightening.

Physically, Meridian is well done. The artwork is excellent, though unfortunately the maps, done on aerial photographs with swathes of green forest are difficult to read.

Meridian is an easy scenario to run, though more so as an introduction to the conspiratorial world of Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game rather than as a campaign addition. It is run through with a meek malleability and horrific hopelessness, both in the Agents’ current assignment and the teenagers of Joplin, that will ultimately lead the Agents coming to realise that any sense of hope is hideously tied to the Unnatural.

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