In the latest episode of their highly polished podcast, Ken and Robin talk pursued PCs, ooze horror, bad food we love, and the silverware cult of John Humphrey Noyes.

“[S]ome day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall … go mad from the revelation …” — H.P. Lovecraft

“Total paranoia is total consciousness.” — Charles Manson

Like a certain recent Quentin Tarantino movie, The Fall of DELTA GREEN juxtaposes the romance of the Sixties with their deeper horrors, very much including spree killings along with the various institutional heinousness of the era. Like all horror, both Tarantino’s film and Fall of DELTA GREEN perhaps perform a certain exorcistic function, allowing us to confront the real world through a ludic lens and ritually or fictively rectify some wrongs. By the way, if you haven’t seen Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood yet, it provides a lyrical time capsule to the Los Angeles of 1969 that Handlers and players should slurp up like one of Rick Dalton’s margaritas. Its Spahn Ranch scene, meanwhile, may be the best short horror film inside a larger film since The Devil’s Backbone, and should give Handlers lots of ideas for cults and cultists. This column offers only the mildest of spoilers.

Cultists. Robes not included.

So how do we use Charles Manson in a Fall of DELTA GREEN game? Before we answer that question, let’s ask the question before that: “Should we use Charles Manson in a Fall of DELTA GREEN game?” That, of course, is up to you and your players to judge: whether the murders of nine people happened too recently (or remain too memorious) to have become history instead of tragedy. If so, then replace Charles Manson with some fictitious cult leader: Louis Maddox, let’s say. Growing up poor and abused in rural Massachusetts, “Louie” drifts in and out of prison, where he encounters the Church of Interlife (FoDG, p. 302) or the True Love Study Group (FoDG, p. 305) and gets turned on to the Unnatural. (Another possibility: Maddox is one of the Annealed (FoDG, p. 302), the child of Kathleen Bishop, a witness to the 1928 “Dunwich Horror” incident, who raises her son to listen for the noises under the hills and the sound of whippoorwills.) He uses Liao instead of LSD, perhaps, to brainwash his murderous Flock. Stumbling on Maddox’ “little birds” soliciting and begging in the streets of whatever warm city the campaign visits regularly slowly leads the Agents to investigate him. Just as happened with Manson, when the authorities (in this case, the PCs) close in, Maddox goes apocalyptic and sends his Flock on a killing spree.

The trouble with using “Maddox” or the equivalent is that you don’t get the immediate ludic charge of the demonic true name, while still leaving yourself open to accusations of gamifying a real-life murder. At some point, however, gamifying murder sort of goes with the horror-mystery territory. Fall of DELTA GREEN, and the Delta Green universe in general, already make use of a lot of specific horrible things in the real world from the quotidian cruelties of MK-ULTRA to the mass-scale horrors of the Vietnam War. If we can fictively re-direct USAF napalm strikes, I would argue that we can fictively or ludically treat a murder cult that, as it happens, seems to spring straight out of Lovecraft’s nightmares: “laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy.”

One advantage of using “Maddox” or the equivalent is that you get to move the murders around from their inconveniently late date (August 1969) to suit your campaign. Another advantage is that you can make up a bunch of wild stuff about “Maddox” — although plenty of people have done the same about Charles Manson, as it turns out, starting perhaps with the prosecuting attorney who put him away for seven murders he didn’t actually commit himself. Vincent Bugliosi’s “Helter Skelter” theory of Manson’s motivation makes a superb Lovecraftian plot: a work of art (White Album, King in Yellow, six of one …) initiated Manson into a secret understanding of the world. Once enlightened with the aid of drugs and occultism, Manson plotted to release his own poisonous artwork, trigger an apocalyptic race war, and emerge in the new aeon as its ruler. Lots of people, from the Family on down, have described this as a prosecutorial fantasia.

But it gets wilder still. In the “weird stuff” part of Fall of DELTA GREEN‘s Sources section, I recommend two works, Sinister Forces by Peter Levenda and Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon by David McGowan, which both confidently assert (among other things) that Manson was the creation (accidental or intentional) of the CIA via its various mind control projects. (I personally tend to doubt this theory, not least because if the CIA had programmed Manson, they would surely have sent him to Roger Vadim’s house, not Roman Polanski’s.) Comes now investigative journalist Tom O’Neill, whose new book CHAOS makes the same argument in a slightly less unhinged tone. O’Neill turns up a dubious character named Reeve Whitson in Polanski’s orbit and hints he’s CIA; he notes that former MK-ULTRA psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West worked at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic while Manson hung around there in 1967. Levenda, characteristically, brings in former OSS psych-warrior Hans Habe, the father of the murdered Marina Habe who some have called another Manson Family victim, and also notes that the Beach Boys recorded a Manson song on the B-side of “Bluebirds Over the Mountain,” a clear reference (if you’re Peter Levenda anyway) to the MK-ULTRA precursor Project BLUEBIRD. So is Manson, or “Maddox,” an accidentally-Annealed MAJESTIC killer?

Or is he serving Something Else? Levenda, nothing loth, recounts Manson’s youth in Ashland, Kentucky, in the shadow of the ancient Adena mounds around and under that town. Do we detect the psychic hand of K’n-Yan, or a Serpent Folk fledgling? Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski both made movies involving Satanism, and the hippie-magician crowd they ran with included plenty of Children of Chorazin (FoDG, p. 304) types. Manson’s Family had its own satanic survivors, from Susan Atkins (former Anton LaVey dancer) to Bobby Beausoleil (star of Crowleyite filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising). Lurid tabloid reports at the time morphed into sensationalistic works such as hippie bard Ed Sherman’s The Family and investigative journalist Maury Terry’s Ultimate Evil, which both fingered the Satanic-Gnostic Process Church as part of Manson’s process. Terry’s book further tied Manson to the Son of Sam case and the Mafia (or the Fate? (FoDG, p. 288)) and eventually a vast cult network that more resembles the Cult of Transcendence (FoDG, p. 298) than anything in the real world. Such total paranoia has no place in the real world, of course. We must relegate it for our own sanity to a game we play, a tale we tell ourselves that begins “Once upon a time … ”


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk Stranger Things’ El as a PC, Nosferatu, kids games with Michelle Nephew, and the Gunpowder Plot.

When organizing an RPG corebook a tension typically arises between its two roles as a tutorial document and a reference guide. The perfect organization remains an impossible ideal, perhaps humming along on some Platonic plane but not in this reality. Learning and playing an RPG isn’t nonlinear, in that you start doing it and eventually wind up having done it. But the line you and your group follow winds up being different from anyone else’s.

With that in mind I broadly structure GUMSHOE core sets to follow the players’ experience of the game, then move on to material both players and GMs need, and finally to GM-only sections, including setting, GM tips, and the intro scenario. Within each section, however, I follow reference guide principles. So you get all of the combat rules together, in an order roughly patterned on the way a fight plays out. But within that, sections are also ordered in conceptual order. This means that if subsystem H requires the use of core rule 3, that core rule has to appear before the subsystem. (Sometimes I’ll tuck a needed but infrequently used subsystem in an appendix, where it isn’t looking all complicated and confusing in the main body of the rules.)

Whatever the book structure, it’s not what happens when a GM teaches the game to others.

If I got to choose how everyone does it, I’d recommend keeping rules explanation to an absolute minimum until needed in play, with the following stages:

1. general intro to the setting, core activity, and, if unfamiliar to the group, the basic style and ethos of the rules set. (“You play ultra-competent occult investigators who fight an occult conspiracy on behalf of an international secret agency. It uses GUMSHOE, rules tuned specifically for investigative storytelling.”)

2. character generation, focusing on player choices, with only the rules details needed to understand the choices before them. (“These are your investigative abilities, which you use to reliably get information when you look in the right place. The numbers next to them provide special benefits beyond that, which I’ll explain in play.”)

3. the first scenario, with rules explanations supplied when they come up. (“Okay, this is one of the general abilities we talked about earlier. You’re rolling a six-sided die, hoping to hit a target number, usually 4. You can spend any number of points from your pool to increase the chances of success.”)

When players ask questions during character generation, answer until they’re satisfied. They’re probably not looking for the whole spiel. In most cases you’ll find they’re focused on imagining their characters and aren’t primed to also fully absorb even the comparatively simple rules found in GUMSHOE.

This way they don’t feel overwhelmed with information, and get to reserve their attention to the creative side of character generation. When the time comes to use a rule in play, it’s more likely to stick. You’re demonstrating it by example, with an attached emotional resonance from the story situation.

This method also allows learning in short bursts, also a key to memorizing abstractions.

Friday the 13th Age is upon us once again! From Friday the 13th September through Sunday the 15th September, 13th Age Roleplaying Game products are on sale for 13% off at the Pelgrane store store, through this special link or using voucher code FRI@13THAGE in the store.

The discount applies to our full range of 13th Age products, including the Battle Scenes bundles, but excluding other bundles, 13th Age Glorantha and Campaign Coins (which aren’t Pelgrane products).

If you’re looking to fill the missing gaps in your own 13th Age collection, this is a great opportunity. And feel free to forward this email to anyone you know who might enjoy 13th Age—now’s a good time for them to buy the essentials.

Want to participate in the event on Twitter? Use and follow the hashtag #FridayThe13thAge

Useful 13th Age links:

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk time as a resource, occult Blues Brothers, the Gen Con auction with Jim Kitchen, and extending Habsburg Spain.

by Steven Hammond

Gen Con was a blast this year. I played a few games, talked to people I only see at Gen Con, and spent several hours helping out in the Pelgrane Booth. I had fun chatting with all the GUMSHOE and Black Book fans that stopped by. If you picked up a flyer in Indy, the discount codes on it will work until October 1. If you missed Gen Con, we love you too. The discount code WeDontAllFitInIndy will give you 20% off a 1-year Player subscription and it’s also good until October 1, 2019.

Summer wasn’t all play though. A couple of interns joined us and we cranked through the GM tools to get them ready for beta testing, which launched this week.

What are the GM Tools? They are a set of tools designed to help the GM offer a more immersive experience. Modeled after the GM matrices in the back of most GUMSHOE games, they

  • Help the GM keep track of characters’ ability ratings and pools, updating in real time as points are spent.
  • Remind the GM of character connections like Sources of Stability, Bonds and Network contacts.
  • Show the GM who’s been getting spotlight time recently, helping to keep the fun moving around the table.

Below is a short video that shows how the GM tools work in play.

 

The Tools currently support Trail of Cthulhu (and Bookhounds of London), Night’s Black Agents (and the Dracula Dossier), and The Fall of DELTA GREEN. The Yellow King RPG is coming soon with support for Shock and Injury Cards — we still have a couple tricky things to work out there.

Participating in the beta is easy. All Player level subscribers have access to the GM Tools via the “Campaigns” link on the left. Click that, then click “New Campaign” at the top menu to get started. Now you can invite anybody you want to play with. Anybody with a Free account can use the Play mode features when connected to a campaign.

Anybody who provides helpful feedback during the beta will get a free 1-year upgrade to the GM level. You can use our contact form to submit feedback. We are not only looking for bugs and usability issues, we are also looking for feedback on parts you like and new features you’d like to see added.

Take a look at the video and let us know what you think in the comments below.

In a very special episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, recorded before a live Gen Con audience, Ken and Robin talk interstellar Habsburgs, balloonist danger, a trilogy of rebellions and donut hot takes.

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin look back at the whirlwind of Gen Con, from awards to tiki gods.

Hi everyone!

My name is Becky and I’m the new Admin Assistant for Pelgrane Press. I’m relatively new to the world of RPGs, having been a board gamer for about 10 years now (favourites include A Feast for Odin, Food Chain Magnate & Great Western Trail) but RPGs are a big part of my life as my partner’s house is partially held up by his collection!  I am often at UK RPG conventions, so some of you may have already met me.  At the moment I’m busy helping CJ organise the Grand Tribunal convention, and this week we have role players flying in from all over the world.

By background I’m a Parapsychologist; if you haven’t come across that term before it’s the psychology of the paranormal, and my personal specialism is researching ghosts and poltergeists. I’m working on a book containing the results of my PhD looking at ghost experiences and I’m also the Treasurer of ASSAP (Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena).

I was a dancer for around 20 years in Modern and Latin American and I now work as a Supporting Artist in music videos, TV and film. You might have seen me (without realising of course) in music videos for Ed Sheeran and Rixton, in British TV shows Call the Midwife and No Offence and in the films The Theory of Everything and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I also enjoy making things with fabric, most notably puppets used in a Freeform at Consequences.

Gaming wise I have met the Elder Things and Giant Albino Penguins in Antarctica, played Vivian Sinclair in Cthulhu Confidential and have a Dwarf PC in 13th Age whose one unique thing is that he is a World Famous Ballroom Dancer! We are about to embark on The Persephone Extraction for Night’s Black Agents.

Look forward to meeting you all at future conventions!

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