A couple of days ago, fellow traveller asaipsyren asked for pointers for GMs looking to run Call of Cthulhu in Pagan Publishing’s Delta Green campaign setting, which has seen a bit of love here lately due to my being a hopeless fanboy.

It’s been a while since I’ve run any Delta Green games, but I have run some wildly successful ones, and a bit of rumination has dug up some advice that beginning Delta Green GMs might find useful. (Note that some of this assumes that your game is set in the US.)

Please feel free to share any of your own tips in the comments.

Meet the Feebs: Ideally, if you’re just starting out, one or more of your PCs should be an FBI Special Agent. The reason for this is that the FBI’s bailiwick is so broad: they enforce not only federal statute, but also pursue domestic counter-intelligence to a varying degree, and investigate crimes which are likely to cross state borders, such as kidnapping and serial murder—and if they can make a good case for it, serial rape, arson and egregious, repeated acts of animal cruelty as well, as latter crimes’ offender profile is almost identical to serial killers’.

The upshot of this is that it’s very easy to involve the PCs in a case through the FBI, and they can travel fairly freely within the US to pursue Delta Green undercover ops. If you’re feeling ambitious, there are other agencies that offer this sort of flexibility—consider one of Homeland Security’s constituent bodies (such as FEMA) or, for a high-politics, Clear-and-Present-Danger-type feel, the National Security Council. Congressional staff also make ideal friendlies.

Of course, there are reasons you mightn’t wish to go down this path, particularly if you’re looking at running a particular theme, such as an all-military campaign. An NCIS-based game might also be a good way to get new players involved; details on NCIS’ precursor, NIS, can be found in the Delta Green source book.

I Would Sell My Soul for Total Control: Whilst modern-day PCs have the benefit of modern technology—mobile phones, GPS and portable satellite internet are invaluable tools against the forces of the Mythos—this doesn’t mean that information is necessarily easy to come by. Reread Appendix C of the Delta Green source book until you’re comfortable with classification, compartmentalisation and other information security procedures.

My friend Ben recently pointed out that public servants can’t pick and choose which laws to obey. As employees of federal law enforcement and/or intelligence agencies, most Delta Green agents must adhere to certain protocols whilst dealing with sensitive information, or face harsh penalties including fines, imprisonment and—in extreme cases—summary execution. These procedures protect not only national security, but the privacy of individuals and corporations—and the US’ legal framework in this area is almost unique in its distrust of its own agencies’ motives.

Thorough (or sadistic) GMs should also note that merely requesting access to any classified and most personal information in federal databases will leave its own audit trail. Majestic-12 can examine this audit trail, and what’s more, they can do so lawfully.

A-Cell will brief the PCs at the start of each operation, but beyond that, they’re on their own. Just because they can access information doesn’t mean they should: make your PCs sweat to obtain information through official channels.

As an aside, Delta Green: Eyes Only has a couple of kernels of essential advice hidden away in odd places. The appendix of Delta Green tradecraft is, of course, a must-read, but also look at the treatment of the Library Use skill on page 94, and the section entitled “Escaping Work” on page 145 (which I’ve reproduced below):

Most federal employees will have to figure a way out of work [to pursue a Delta Green operation]. For some this will not be difficult, as sick days will have accumulated and may be freely spent on the op. For others, different excuses may lead to some interesting role-playing incidents: a dead aunt, sick uncle, car crash, injury, etc. It’s just like cutting school, except if the investigators are caught using their federal clout while on personal time they could face disciplinary action, a fine, or even prison time.

Sadistic or imaginative Keepers may have an investigator’s boss pursue the matter further, perhaps discovering the ruse or snooping around into the agent’s personal affairs.

Note that any but the dumbest of federal employees will smell a rat when they’re asked to use up their sick leave without compensation; Delta Green agents will cotton onto its extra-legal nature pretty quickly.

Lastly, to get back to the issue of technology: although the PCs have access to all sorts of toys denied to their 1920s counterparts, technology is a crutch.

About ten years ago, I had the extraordinary pleasure of attending a conference at a rural retreat with 120 other technologically literate young people. The venue was well outside mobile phone coverage and had only a single payphone to communicate with the outside world. Only a few of us knew how to operate a payphone—I laughed my throat raw that weekend.

For all our sophistication and bravado, we’re far less self-confident and self-reliant than most people in the 1920s; our technological—particularly our communications—infrastructure not only maintains our economy and way of life, but many people are emotionally dependent on the security it provides. Where the average person in the 1920s might find a phone outage or a vehicle breakdown annoying and inconvenient, modern reactions can border on hysteria. When those sources of security cease to function, one by one, anxiety rears its head in ways people 90 years ago could scarcely comprehend.

Thus, paranoia and loss of control define modern horror, just as xenophobia and insanity define classical Lovecraft. Those toys are magnificent means by which to ramp up tension.

Origin Myths: It should go without saying that the Delta Green Web Server should be your first port of call after you’ve read the Delta Green sourcebook. You should also subscribe to the Delta Green Mailing List; be warned, though, that there’s a lot of dense content posted to the list at times. If you have a few days to spare, go trawling through their archive (available at The Fairfield Project or The Ice Cave)—it’s a veritable goldmine of ideas.

Try to get hold of Chaosium’s 1990s Handbook and all four Delta Green source books. Each of them has its own unique resources, but also builds quite substantially on the previous books. The contents of each are listed below:

1990s Handbook: Modern equipment, helicopters and weapons; US government agencies and armed forces; police and crime; hit locations; story seeds and six maps of anomalous locations around the world.

Delta Green: Delta Green; Majestic-12, the Mi-Go and the Greys; Karotechia; SaucerWatch; the Fate; basic tradecraft; US federal agencies; new skills and modern firearms; three scenarios.

Delta Green: Countdown: PISCES (DG’s UK counterpart) and the Shan; GRU SV-8 (DG’s Russian counterpart); the Skoptsi (based on a real-life Russian castration cult); the OUTLOOK Group (more Majestic-12); Tiger Transit (the Tcho-tcho meet Air America); the D Stacks (Mythos holdings at the American Museum of Natural History); Keepers of the Faith (ghouls in New York); a whole new treatment of Hastur; psychic powers; three scenarios; profiles for federal agencies from 33 countries, plus INTERPOL.

Delta Green: Eyes Only: The Mi-Go (in greater depth); the Fate (also in much greater depth); Project RAINBOW (From Beyond meets The Philadelphia Experiment); more tradecraft; three scenarios.

Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity: Black Cod Island (native Americans meet The Shadow over Innsmouth); Disciples of the Worm (the international drug trade meets the Crawling One from Shadows of Yog-Sothoth); the DeMonte Clan (Deliverance with voodoo and Ghouls); M-EPIC (DG’s Canadian counterpart); the Cult of Transcendence (Nyarlathotep meets the self-actualisation movement); new rules for combat and insanity; a rundown of forensic DNA analysis; tips on running Delta Green.

Arc Dream Publishing (who co-published Eyes Only and published Targets of Opportunity) has hinted that their next Delta Green source book will consist entirely of scenarios. In addition, Ken Hite’s Dubious Shards contains a scenario from the ill-fated Cult of Transcendence source book.

There are plenty of good Web-based resources for Delta Green, most of which are listed at the Web Server, above; make sure to check out Dennis Detwiller’s blog for free scenarios. Fortean Times is a particularly good source for ideas, but there are literally thousands of others on the Web, too.

If you have some spare cash, you may want to take a look at Pelgrane Press’ The Esoterrorists RPG, along with The Esoterror Factbook, for a different take on a similar concept to Delta Green. Also pick up their Book of Unremitting Horror, in my opinion the best horror monster guide ever written for an RPG.

Several GMs have adapted Unknown Armies‘ insanity system to Delta Green, and an intrepid few have even run Delta Green/Unknown Armies crossovers. Throw The Esoterrorists into the mix, and you’re almost guaranteed an awesome mashup that your players will talk about for years to come.

Also, from July this year, keep an eye out for Cubicle 7‘s The Laundry RPG, a BRP-compatible take on Charles Stross‘ Bob Howard/Laundry Files novels, which could be described as Delta Green by way of Franz Kafka and Terry Pratchett (although that doesn’t really do them proper justice).

If you can, grab a copy of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s Font-Prop CDROM. It’s more useful for 1920s/1930s-era Call of Cthulhu, but it still contains over 50 historical fonts and 80 historical prop documents. Either way, it’s an excellent investment if you produce your own handouts.

Often, fans will pitch Delta Green as “Cthulhu meets The X-Files“—but it’s so very much more. In tone, it’s probably closer to Millennium or the La Femme Nikita TV series. The latter isn’t incredibly well-cast, in my opinion (with the notable exceptions of Edward Woodward, Alberta Watson and the surprisingly flexible Carlo Rota), but the atmosphere is perfect—whole episodes can go by without advancing plot, and you don’t even notice it amongst the building tension. If you’re not afraid of subtitles or odd Danish men talking over the end credits, give Lars von Trier’s Riget and Riget II—also known as The Kingdom and The Kingdom II—a look-in, too.

There are probably hundreds of films you could use for inspiration, and time is too short to go into all of my favourites. In particular, though, look out for films by Takashi Shimizu, Hideo Nakata or Guillermo del Toro—all three are experts at building atmosphere in horror movies. Although it’s not supernatural horror, you might also want to check out John Hillcoat’s Ghosts… of the Civil Dead—a truly harrowing film about a high-tech prison in the Australian outback—particularly if the PCs ever find themselves visiting a supermax facility.

Sadly, most of my books are still packed away in boxes, but a few recommendations do come to mind.

If you’re thinking of modelling your campaign on Criminal Minds, then do yourself—and your players—a huge favour: track down some of the FBI’s manuals and give them a thorough going-over. Although a bit dated, Robert Ressler is particularly approachable as an author: Whoever Fights Monsters is a cracking primer on the history of profiling, and both the Crime Classification Manual and Sexual Homicide are essential reading.

Beg, borrow or clandestinely repurpose a copy of the DSM-IV to see how mental disorders are diagnosed and classified in the real world; it’s a bit expensive to buy if you’re not going to use it otherwise.

Liberally sprinkle cultists’ tomes and ceremonies with extracts from Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn for a more authentic feel. Robert Anton Wilson‘s non-fictional (or perhaps, more accurately, less allegorical) works are good sources for quasi-occult rumination. If you’re willing to throw the cat amongst the wolves, so to speak, then you might consider Wilson’s fiction as well—it already contains undead Nazis and Mythos references.

Get yourself a good book on small arms. Look out for survival guides, declassified army manuals, and anything published by Paladin Press. Search for books on tradecraft, but only from a reputable military bookstore—there’s too much crud out there, aimed at separating the unwary from their money.

If you have some money to burn, buy a copy of Taryn Simon’s An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar—I doubt you’ll ever find a richer photographic source for Delta Green scenario ideas.

Lastly of all, get out there and experience! Tour an old prison, underground tunnels or a church. Buy a drink for a federal employee and pump them for information. Ask a political campaigner what it’s like to grind himself into the dirt for a candidate he hates. Eavesdrop on drunk cops.

But trust me on the sunscreen.