As a huge fan of horror, as well as X-Files, I should have been playing Delta Green since its initial release in 1997. Hell I didn’t even know about the Call of Cthulhu RPG for years after getting into Rifts, D&D, etc. The original release of Delta Green is a sourcebook/supplement to the Call of Cthulhu RPG; it depends on that book for the base rules. This newer release makes Delta Green a stand-alone game. It still shares common or similar rules and systems as Call of Cthulhu and other BRP games, but it does stand alone, and from my reading it seems to be the simplest implementation of those rules, so one point for Delta Green! I must also commend Arc Dream for the gorgeous art and layout, along with a very clear set of readable typefaces.
However, we may need to already take away that point, because Delta Green has gone the way the latest edition of Call of Cthulhu has: increasing the page-count to the point of necessitating 2 separate books. Although in Call of Cthulhu the Keeper Rulebook is all that’s truly needed to play as well as run the game, for Delta Green you may actually need to buy both books. The Agent’s Handbook does cover most game rules including combat and sanity, but there isn’t any information on creating adventures, monsters and other opponents, etc. If you’re just wanting to use older Delta Green material and/or the new adventures being released, or simply your own custom material, the Agent’s Handbook may be sufficient for you. I suppose it wouldn’t be too hard to create custom monsters and opponents, or even borrow some from other BRP games, but having official guidance is what I’d prefer. Do I really mind having to buy another book? Well, in this case I don’t actually. Considering how easy (and fun!) it is to read through the Agent’s Handbook, and its amazing design and layout, I’m happy to spend a little more money to support this game and publisher!
In this short opening chapter we are introduced to what Delta Green is and isn’t. If you’re familiar with Call of Cthulhu, you’ll know what to expect: fighting against insurmountable odds and at the very luckiest may survive the day, with or without your sanity intact. In this game you aren’t a Victorian or 1800s investigator or socialite. In one way or another you work for Delta Green, a government agency that won’t even confirm your existence. You might already work for the government, in the military, or a civilian who was unlucky enough to witness something out of the ordinary. Understand? Good let’s proceed…
Now that you know what you’re in for, it’s time to create your agent. First are your statistics, the same you’ve seen in OSR RPGs and other BRP RPGs. Next are the derived attributes from those attributes. Next you’ll choose your profession; there’s not that many to choose from, but they’re fairly broad in scope, and you can always create one if you wish. Depending on which profession you choose you’ll receive professional skills to go with it. You’ll also choose bonus skill points. Next you’ll choose your bonds, the close meaningful relationships in the agent’s life. The final step is to provide some extra details about your agent; these include name, age, nationality, motivations, possibly a mental disorder, and/or adapted to violence or helplessness.
All in all this is one of the easiest systems for character creation I’ve seen in a BRP RPG, let alone any RPG.
Except for combat and sanity, which follow this chapter in fairly small number of pages each, this chapter is basically the meat of the game (especially as compared to OSR RPGs you shouldn’t be spending too much time in combat, as that’s likely certain death for your agent).
What this game comes down to, just like all BRP RPGs, is the use of skills. In this game your profession granted your agent a set of skills to use, at varying levels of competency. BRP RPGs including Delta Green are a roll-under system; you want to roll as low as possible on d100 to succeed; of course the higher your skill percentage/rating, the easier that is.
First it must be determined if something that your agent needs to do even needs to roll. Perhaps only sufficient time, patience, and/or energy are needed to succeed; other things may require a minimum percentage in a relevant skill to succeed, and if your agent doesn’t meet that then it’s an automatic failure. The game lists 3 criteria for rolling dice for a skill test: when it is difficult, when the situation is unpredictable, and when there are consequences. In some circumstances a specific skill may not be applicable or even required, but one of the agent’s statistics could be used (at x5 its value against d100).
Once an agent has rolled, there are 4 possible outcomes: critical success, success, failure, and fumble. The first two happen when the roll is lower than the skill number/rating, and the latter two for when the roll is higher. The outliers, critical success and fumble, happen when the roll is 01 or 00 respectively, or the roll is matching numbers.
The remaining pages of this chapter deal with time required, opposed rolls, pursuit, and willpower points. Each of these short sections are very easy to learn and logical.
Alright agent, the world is a dangerous place, and confrontations are inevitable. This chapter covers what all you can do, as well as the things you must deal with as a consequence of attacks and any other actions.
First is the concept of turns; each turn is normally a couple of seconds but may be longer, just long enough for everyone to complete an action. What are your agents’ options? You can aim, attack, called shot, disarm, dodge, escape, fight back, move, pin, wait, or anything else that can be done in a turn’s amount of time (so no screwing around).
Attack and defense rolls are both pretty simple and straight-forward. Delta Green introduces the lethality rating for massive weapons in both terms of damage and/or multiple attacks (such as a machine gun). This is an ingenious rule! I believe it is also used for monsters and their more devastating attacks. Next the chapter covers protection, including fragile, exposed, armor, huge, transcendent, and armor-piercing weapons. After that it’s time to go over other threats, including poison and disease, falling, impact, suffocation, fire, and cold. Last but not least is the aftermath of combat.
All in all this is also a fairly short chapter, which each sub-system and rule clearly explained. Each one has its uses and follows a logical order.
As this is a Cthulhu-based game, sanity is an inevitable subject matter, as much to my chagrin. I certainlly understand that the unknown, strange, and horrifying can have varying effects on a person’s mind, but within the scope of a tabletop game I would want them to not take up a large amount of time, rules, and effect on the people playing and running the game.
The chapter starts with describing the SAN value, denoted as two numbers (the amount loss due to a success or failure). Next is a very small section about exploring the loss of sanity; if it’s a small loss, how does that look to the other agents and NPCs? It’s an interesting notion that I’m glad the book included. It also hits upon success, as the event could have been something that any other “normal” person would have certainly taken a toll (the book’s example is when someone is killed by the agent).
Next the game covers threats to SAN, including violence, helplessness, and the unnatural. The biggest sections of this chapter cover insanity and disorders. These can be potentially interesting things to roleplay, but I personally would ultimately limit the influence these have on the game. I don’t want the game to get bogged down, and let’s face it a royally screwed up agent is useless and would either be debriefed and dismissed, imprisoned, or even killed. Finally the chapter ends with sections on permanent insanity, resisting insanity, and recovery.
While the majority of a Delta Green game should focus on the agents in the field, it can be a nice break and change of pace to have either a short portion or even an entire session focused on the agents’ home lives. With everything an agent has to deal with and confront, along with what’s happened while the agent was away from home (whether the agent is married or seeing someone of course adds more complexities and roleplaying potential), can all weigh on the agents’ mind and affect his or her actions.
First, take stock of what’s changed: bonds damaged or broken, permanent injuries, disorders, and anything relating to work such as resources and contacts. Next, each agent chooses a personal pursuit: fulfill responsibilities, back to nature, establish a new bond, go to therapy, improve a skill or stat, personal motivation, special training, stay on the case, or study the unnatural.
There are two possibilities an agent needs to be prepared for: getting fired (from their day job, not Delta Green) and prosecution. The former may affect some day-to-day things in their duties as a Delta Green agent, but it won’t ultimately hurt them. The latter will take much more luck and good skill rolls to get through, and may still end up paying a fine, spending time in prison, and likely losing their day job.
Equipment & Vehicles
Next it’s time to consider what all the agent will need to complete their mission. In Delta Green items aren’t listed by discrete dollar amounts, but rather by expense categories: incidental, standard, unusual, major, and extreme. Incidental purchases can be made pretty much as-is and will always be considered doable. Anything above that will either be a challenge, extremely limited, or require funding from dubious sources.
One option to obtain equipment is requisition. Of course this is official and therefore will have a paper trail. It is also equipment that must be returned. There is also the operational priority to consider, as well as complications (access, timing and risk, and official review). There are also sections for spending the agents’ own money, using possibly illicit cash, and restricted items (including the possibility of a black market).
OK now it’s onto the equipment. There’s many kinds, including those categorized under weapons, body armor, vehicles, and other gear & services. Each category has a short section with specific rules and information to go with them, followed by the tables of the items with their relevant skill, damage, range, armor piercing, expense, etc. There’s a good selection for each category, but there’s no doubt each game will require the creation of new and custom items. My favorite category is other gear and services, as its examples make me think of things I never would have and/or taken for granted.
This sizable section covers many (if not all) of the agencies of the United States. Your game may make use of few, many, or almost all of these. This chapter is broken down into sections: Law Enforcement (FBI, DEA, ICE, and U.S. Marshals), Defense (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and SOCOM), Intelligence & Diplomacy (CIA and Department of State), and Public Safety (CDC and EPA). Each section has a good amount of information as well as suggested professions.
This small section goes over a number of unique situations and events the agents are likely to encounter in their adventures. I’m not too sure why it’s at the end of the book as an appendix; I think it could fit just fine in The Game chapter.
One thing I must commend Delta Green on is its very extensive glossary, broken down into xx categories: Equipment, Individuals, (Mis)Information, Locations, Miscellaneous, Operations, Organizations, and Procedures. Even though placed near the end of the book, I would recommend referencing this section quite often while reading anywhere else in the book, as it will no doubt help to fully understand something, especially in the game’s context.
The index is extremely thorough (5 pages, 3 columns!), something that is painfully rare these days.
Look at that list of playtesters and backers, holy shit!
And more holy shit, is that the OGL license I see?! OK before we get too excited, let’s see exactly what’s been marked as Open Content, which is at the end of the OGL license: game mechanics on pages 14–22, 28–36, 42–47, 50–63, 66–75, 78–79, and 84–95. So what all is that exactly? That is the Agents chapter through Professions (14-22), skill descriptions and bonds (28-36), the entire Game chapter (42-47), the entire Combat chapter (50-63), the entire Sanity chapter (66-75), the first 2 pages of the Home chapter (78-79), and the Equipment & Vehicles chapter up until the tables (84-95).
Ok, so while it may seem to not be a huge portion of the game that’s Open Content, it does cover the majority of the rules of the game. I find it odd they left out additional professions, but perhaps they want others to create their own rather than copy theirs. In the Home chapter they left out getting fired and prosecution. I have no idea why they left that out. In the Equipment & Vehicles chapter I imagine they left out the tables for the same reason they left out additional professions: to force others to create their own equipment and vehicles. The rest of the book, primarily the large Federal Agencies chapter, has been left out of the Open Content designation, and I think that’s fine. I don’t think that means you couldn’t include a fictional FBI or special forces in your material, you would just have to come up with your own unique way of how that department works in your adventure, game, etc. I kinda bemoan that the Tradecraft section has been left out, but I can understand it’s a unique section of information and rules for Delta Green.
As I noted in the beginning I really wish I had learned about Delta Green as well as the Call of Cthulhu RPG much earlier in my gaming life. The logical and not-too-complicated rules along with the outstanding settings make these games that I can certainly envision all kinds of fun, terrible, and even haunting situations to put characters into! This latest edition of Delta Green has a very slick rule system, and I must again commend Arc Dream for releasing the rules under the OGL. I certainly intend for this game to remain on my shelf well into the future, sitting beside few other games that also stand the test of time.
Along with the release of the Agent’s Handbook and recently the Handler’s Guide, Arc Dream has already released a large number of adventures. Each has an interesting premise and more great artwork to help sell the mood. I highly recommend checking them out! They have also released the free Need to Know, a quickstart to the game that also includes an adventure.