In our latest virtual panel, Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan are joined by special guest, Chaosium’s Lynne Hardy, to discuss the perennial connection between H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. We cover the core elements of Cthulhu gaming, Call of Cthulhu’s impact on the hobby, striking a balance between hopelessness and flipping out, how gaming changed the mythos, our favorite bits of Yog-Sothothery, and more.


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.

“Another queer happening, of a totally different kind, occurred four or five years ago. A woman‐friend and I were out walking one night in a lane near Auburn, when a dark, lightless and silent object passed over us against the stars with projectile‐like speed. The thing was too large and swift for any bird, and gave precisely the effect of a black meteor. I have often wondered what it was. Charles Fort, no doubt, would have made a substantial item out of it for one of his volumes.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, letter to H.P. Lovecraft (November 1933)

Clark Ashton Smith: Decadent, Horrorist … Fortean? Smith first read Charles Fort’s Book of the Damned in October 1930, according to an earlier letter to Lovecraft: “I don’t care for the style — but the assembled data is quite imposing, and worthy of close study.” (Lovecraft read Fort’s works in March 1927.) By the next year Smith had gotten over his allergy to Fort’s telegraphic prose, writing to one William Whittingham Lyman: “When it comes to fictional inspiration, I had more in the writings of Charles Fort … than in any of the orthodox crew. Fort has spent his life amassing a gorgeous collection of data …” Could Smith have turned to Fort, going to the considerable trouble of checking The Book of the Damned out of the California state library by mail, to investigate his own Fortean encounter? As he wrote to Lovecraft in November 1933, some time in 1928 or 1929 or 1930 he saw “a dark, lightless, and silent object … a black meteor” “too large and swift for any bird” that “passed over us against the stars with projectile-like speed.” Did the Black Meteor leave its shadow behind on the Sorcerer of Auburn? Perhaps, perhaps, and perhaps that is why Smith datelined the letter describing his UFO sighting “Tower of black jade in lost Carcosa. Hour when the twin suns are both at nadir.” The “tower of black jade” crossing the stars on the darkest night of dark Carcosa, in other words.

“Klarkash‐Ton had seen one, had seen something, a year or two before. It was on a hot night and he had been lying outside on his sleeping bag, gazing upward into the depths of space. Suddenly he became aware of a large object, like an indistinct shadow, darker than the night, passing slowly above him, blotting out the stars.”

— George Haas, “As I Remember Klarkash-Ton” (1963)

From left: Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Barbour Johnson, George Haas, and Stanton Levey

Smith didn’t leave Charles Fort’s skies behind with the Weird Tales crew. In 1949, he praised an Arkham Sampler SF issue for “the prominence given to Wells and to Charles Fort.” In 1951 he wrote the foreword to a book of poems (including such Fortean titles as “Cosmic Saboteurs” and “Since We Are Property”) by Lilith Lorraine, the pseudonym of SF author Gertrude Wright (nee Mary Maud Dunn). (Smith may have met Wright in person while she was living in Berkeley and running a Theosophical sex cult, ca. 1923-1927.) And in 1953 he met gardner, Fortean, and SF fan George P. Haas who went on to fame as an early Bigfoot hunter.

Haas also introduced Smith to fellow Weird Tales alumnus Robert Barbour Johnson and to area occultist-photographer-organist Howard Stanton Levey, who would later become the Satan-monger Anton LaVey. (While we’re engaged in Fortean synchronicities, Johnson had worked as a big cat trainer, and Levey kept a pet panther named Zoltan.) Haas talked Fort with Smith on their first meeting in September 1953, and elucidated either a garbled rendering of Smith’s 1928 encounter, or a repeat sighting. Given the different circumstances in each description (alone and lying down in his backyard vs. walking with a girl on a road) we can’t rule out a second encounter of the first kind, around 1951 or 1952.

Smith’s home town of Auburn, California has a smattering of UFO sightings to its credit, dating back to the 1896 “airship” flap for proper Fortean juju. (Does anybody else think the 1896 Airship makes a great Carcosan irruption for a Yellow King RPG game set in San Francisco? No? Just me then.) If flying shadows cruised Auburn’s skies in 1928-29 only Smith seems to have seen them, or written about it. UFOs buzzed Auburn, as well as nearby Roseville and Sacramento (only 30 miles away) in June and July of 1947. Two Air Force officers saw a “cylinder with twin tails, 200 ft. long and 90 ft. wide” over McClellan AFB in Sacramento, moving north (toward Auburn) at “incredible speed” on 13 March 1951, right in the window for Smith’s second sighting. (In 1952, Beale AFB near Auburn was officially on “inactive status.” Sure it was.) Another UFO flits over Citrus Heights on 20 August 1956. Smith dies of a series of strokes in 1961. In September 2009, numerous witnesses see “black triangles” in the skies over Auburn.

“A dark meteor, made of some incombustible, indestructible matter which is seen to fall. It is found to be a sort of shard containing an alien entity in a state of suspended animation. (Such a meteoric object might be found buried in the archaean strata, where it had fallen in the earth’s youth.) The alien being might be a king of some trans-galactic world, who had been ((thus)) kidnapped and dropped on the earth by enemies. His subjects, knowing that he still exists, have sought him for aeons through the universe, using a magnetic detector which would reveal the presence of the strange element which he is enclosed.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, story treatment “The Dark Meteor” (n.d.)

Your Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents may well want to investigate the 20 June 1966 UFO sighting in Auburn, especially given that Beale AFB (just down the hill from Auburn, even closer than McClellan AFB) begins basing the top-secret SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane in January 1966. And when they look back through the records and papers, and ask around town, they discover that a man who knew a whole lot about the Unnatural used to live up on Indian Ridge before a mysterious fire burned down his cabin in 1957. But fortunately, he may have left a clue in his Black Book.

Smith’s notebook, the “Black Book,” describes one possibility. A king of Shonti or Nython, an empress of Sadastor or Xiccarph, lies bound in a black meteor, imprisoned in an interdimensional orbit that emerges over Auburn, California every seven years (1930, 1951, 1966). Alien enemies — Mi-Go? — seek the meteor, as perhaps does MAJESTIC. The Air Materiel Command of Roswell fame (now Air Force Logistics Command) bases out of McClellan AFB in Sacramento, after all. The search for the Dark Meteor, or the flight from the avengers of triple-sunned Xiccarph, may send your Agents deep into the shadows over Auburn and still deeper into the incantations of Klarkash-Ton.


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.

We usually do our perennial GUMSHOE panel, the Investigative Roleplaying Masterclass, at conventions ranging from Gen Con to Dragonmeet to the Kraken. With the convention circuit suspended indefinitely, we thought it was time to do a virtual version of it, as part of our lockdown-inspired ramp-up of our YouTube channel. The live stream has now been archived to view at your leisure. It starts with Ken arriving fashionably late in order to preserve the in-person convention feel:

You’ll note that we retitled it a bit to be search-friendly for the broader YouTube audience. And yes, that includes the dreaded space between “table” and “top” in “table top roleplaying” because that’s how the kids search for it these days.

To join our fledgling Discord channel and get announcements and access for future Pelgrane virtual panels, drop us a line at support@pelgranepress.com.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

Are you a new GM looking to dip your toes into the horror genre? Are you hoping to nudge someone into running a scary game for you? As part of their Adventure Goddess program, which encourages women to take the GM’s chair, Carolyn Noe of Superheroines Etc organized this virtual panel featuring Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, and Ruth Tillman. Join them as they share their most chillingly useful Game Moderating tips.

GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

With physical conventions off the table for the moment, Pelgrane Press is cooking up a series of virtual panels over on our newly bustling YouTube channel. To kick things off Ken and Robin entered the Dreamlands of Zoom to take questions from a crew of stalwart volunteers. Now you too can watch as they nerdtrope the 100 Years War, share online RPG play tips, blackguard Joseph Campbell, praise Charles Portis, contemplate socially distant game snacks, and more.

Bugs! Everywhere you look there’s another kind of bug
Makes you want to get a club and clout ’em
Yes everybody’s talking bout the worrysome bugs
But ain’t nobody doing nothing about ’em …

Bugs! Everywhere you look there’s another type of bug
But if ya live in the delta ya got ’em …
— Bobbie Gentry, “Bugs” (1967)

In 1951, the sudden onslaught of the Korean War drove a somewhat less-sudden onslaught of Federal preparedness programs: civil defense, counter-intelligence, and — as it happened — bacteriological warfare defense. Thrust onto the front lines of this effort, Alexander Langmuir, M.D. (b. 1910), the Director of the Epidemiology Program Office of the CDC, proposed the creation of a special unit of “shoe leather epidemiologists” to investigate suspicious clusters. Langmuir believed in national surveillance as the key to detecting outbreaks and determining hidden patterns and vectors, but without intelligent observers on the ground, analysis was worthless.

Do not lose the briefcase. Do NOT lose the briefcase. DO NOT LOSE THE BRIEFCASE.

The resulting Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) started up in 1953, with a “class” of 22 doctors and veterinarians. Langmuir runs the EIS out of his hip pocket, and after exposing a faulty polio vaccine in 1955 he begins salting other offices of the CDC with EIS alumni. EIS officers discover links between cancer and birth defects in Niles, Illinois; clamp down on the Hong Kong flu epidemic in 1968 (which nonetheless kills 100,000 Americans over the next three years); and discover norovirus in Norwalk, Ohio in 1969. By the 1960s, the EIS has around 40 members, all post-graduate medical professionals: doctors, veterinarians, nurses, microbiologists, and the inevitable-for-the-decade statisticians. The numbers go up in 1966, when the EIS becomes a recognized alternative to the draft; the doctors nickname themselves the “Yellow Berets.” But EIS officers still get sent to remote lands: not just hurricane-devastated stretches of Mississippi or dengue-ridden fields in Puerto Rico, but to Jamaica (for diptheria vaccination), rebellious Biafra in West Africa (for smallpox eradication efforts), and the remote back-country of Bolivia.

In that last operation, the U.S. Army Medical Unit (USAMU, which becomes USAMRIID in 1969) tasks the CDC to bring back samples of the bubonic plague from an outbreak in July of 1964. The EIS sends a team under a CDC plague specialist to the village of Descargadero, where a quarter of the local Quechua population had died of the plague. They dig up the most recent plague victim, sever her pinkie finger (plague viruses survive longest in bone marrow), pack it in dry ice and bring it back to Fort Detrick, Maryland.

“It’s an awful thought—whole forgotten cycles of evolution with beings and races and wisdom and diseases—all lived through and gone before the first amoeba ever stirred in the tropic seas geology tells us about.”

— H.P. Lovecraft and Adolphe de Castro, “The Last Test”

Grave-robbing and plague-collecting seem to lead us ineluctably to the DELTA GREEN side of all this. You can simply have an EIS Officer as part of the standard Agent team; whether Langmuir is cleared or just knows to look the other way is the Handler’s call. Or Langmuir could be MAJESTIC, possibly MJ-8 connected. (Or both! His CDC tenure goes back to before the formal DELTA GREEN-MAJESTIC split.) He might simply be legitimately, rationally terrified of alien viruses — but since the EIS also practices live trials of both vaccines and strains of disease on Federal prisoners, he might just be another mad scientist with a slightly better rep.

Or you could play an all-EIS (or mostly-EIS with one USAMU liaison to shoot people) team, mostly fighting legitimate diseases in a legitimate way, with new pneumatic Ped-o-Jet injectors and clever grid maps of infection punched into computer-readable cards. And every so often, yes, fighting ghouls. Run each containment effort as a chase, using the average of the team’s First Aid as their chase pool and varying the Disease pool to reflect its virulence and lethality. Rather than the Fall of DELTA GREEN best-of-three chases, use the full thriller chase mechanics from Night’s Black Agents (NBA, p. 53), rolling one contest per scene (or per day). Each point of Lead the disease opens up kills 10 (or 1, or 100, or whatever) people; at Lead 10 it becomes a full-blown outbreak. The scenes themselves become interpersonal interactions with possible victims, and searches for vectors: Are these canned tuna full of botulism? Did these farmers eat crops tainted by fungicide? Is the disease spreading from UFO contactees? If the Handler has determined a vector, the Agents figuring it out can count as a Swerve on their part, or just affect that scene’s contest like a standard Investigative spend. Alien or sentient diseases, or those spread by villains, can Raise and Swerve or even attack the Agents!

Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer

Start with Physician (FoDG, p. 043) or the basic Medic template (if your Agent has military training; FoDG, p. 026) and layer on CDC Researcher (FoDG, p. 034). Add Traffic Analysis 1. For a veterinarian or microbiologist (or other medical specialist), spend 2 build points on Special Training (FoDG, p. 072) in that specialty, which adds +2 to your First Aid tests to save a subject’s life, or to the Health test of a subject under your care (resisting toxins, for example) within that specialty. It doesn’t increase the amount of First Aid points you have to spend refreshing the subject’s Health.

Army Medical Unit Field Investigator

Well, you say you’re with the AMU. You might be with the Biological Warfare Laboratory, also at Fort Detrick, which doesn’t shut down until 1969. Build an active-duty Army Medic (FoDG, p. 026). Add Agency (AMU) 1, increase Medicine to 3.

Add one of: HUMINT 1, Photography 1, Reassurance 1

Add one of: Athletics 3, Firearms 3, Health 3

CIA Project CHICKWIT Liaison

Hey, if you’re going into the Lake Mlolo area anyway, maybe someone from Langley could tag along. No reason, just more of a backstop for you, really. Also, don’t pay any mind if he puts any unusual biological samples — yellow lotus, or Glossina diabolis flies, or what-have-you — into this sealed container.

Every dangerous biological investigation operation needs a Paul Reiser type, and the Agency has lots of them to spare.

Build a Political Action Division Officer (FoDG, p. 043), with the following exchanges: Biology 2 instead of the Art and History abilities; Negotiation instead of Inspiration.


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.

Our new Pelgrane Video Dispatches series continues with Ken’s favorite GUMSHOE ability. Robin’s was easy to predict. Will Ken’s choice come as a surprise?


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

For the long cases they seized proved upon opening to contain some exceedingly gruesome things; so gruesome, in fact, that the matter could not be kept quiet amongst the denizens of the underworld.

— H.P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Although DELTA GREEN keeps most of its attention focused north of Boston during the ripples following Operation RIPTIDE in 1963 (FoDG, p. 179), the area south of Boston attracts plenty of attention from its cousins in overt law enforcement. During the 1960s, Providence, Rhode Island served as the headquarters for the New England Mafia, running operations as far north as Maine. Where better to focus a few DELTA GREEN eyes in (or around) the FBI? Other federal fingers can poke in from the Naval War College in Newport and the Quonset Point Naval Air Station (ONI, DIA), or even the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center (DARPA, AEC). Even if the Executive Committee doesn’t know why Providence should be a priority, your players might guess.

That’s Mister Patriarca to you, pal

Whoever’s looking at Providence, they’re going to be looking at Raymond “The Man” L.S. Patriarca, Sr. (b. 1908), the godfather of the New England mob. A former gambler, drunk-roller, and pimp, Patriarca graduated to burglary, safecracking, and armed robbery as Prohibition cemented the power of organized crime. After two brief stints in prison (a year and a day on Mann Act charges in 1933, and four months in 1938), he emerged as a savvy hood, “just the toughest guy you ever saw,” and rose through the ranks of the New England Mafia to become underboss in 1947. In 1952, Boston godfather Filippo Buccola retired, moving to Sicily to start a chicken farm. Patriarca took over and moved headquarters to his home town of Providence in 1956, leaving Gennaro Angiulo (b. 1919) in charge as underboss in Boston. Angiulo plays a divide-and-conquer strategy with the Irish gangs, sending hitter “Cadillac Frank” Salemme (b. 1933) to kill the last two members of the McLaughlin gang in 1966 to put the Winter Hill Gang tenuously on top.

Patriarca runs his empire from “the Office,” a two-story building on Atwells Avenue in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence. The National Cigarette Service Company and Coin-O-Matic Distributors based there somehow get their machines everywhere in New England, but earn only a fraction of the revenue Patriarca commands. He runs race tracks, including the Berkshire Downs and Hancock Park in Massachusetts and Lincoln Downs in Rhode Island. He has a large stake in the Dunes and Desert Inn in Las Vegas; after 1967 he controls almost all the fresh seafood shipments out of New England to the rest of the country. In addition to gambling, the Office oversees prostitution, pornography, robberies, and truck hijacking, and runs union rackets through Arthur Coia Sr. (b. 1914) of the Laborers International Union. About a dozen top soldiers run these operations and oversee others in Rhode Island: strip club racketeer Luigi “Baby Shacks” Manocchio (b. 1927), strong-arm man Giovanni “Candy” Candelmo (b. 1905), the “Swiss watch” mastermind and hit man John “Red” Kelley (b. 1914), and others. Frank Forti (b. 1916) taps carnivals, fairs, and similar attractions all over the state, while the fence Alfredo “The Blind Pig” Rossi (b. 1920) manages gangs of shoplifters and “boosters” all over the country.

Patriarca’s rules include keeping a low profile, paying all his men generously, and ruthless enforcement of his will. Rule three takes precedence: among other challengers, he has John F. “Jack” Nazarian, one of his own killers, whacked in a Providence restaurant in 1962 in front of 22 witnesses. The Office has ample pull in Rhode Island politics, including Governor Notte, Providence Mayor Joe Doorley, North Providence police chief Jack de Stafno, U.S. Senator John O. Pastore,  state legislators including majority leader (1966-1976) Joseph Bevilacqua, along with numerous judges, state’s attorneys, and lesser figures. Patriarca has a national reputation, to boot. He sits on the governing council of La Cosa Nostra, and even gets recruited by the CIA for Operation MONGOOSE in 1960: he contributes minor league second baseman turned hit man Maurice “Pro” Lerner (b. 1935) to the Castro kill squad.

The FBI begins its full-court press on Patriarca in 1961, as the losing Irish mobs call in the Kennedys on their oppressor, and wiretaps “the Office” starting in 1962. In 1964, Patriarca funds a gun-running depot disguised as a seminary in Maine, to be run by the American Nazi Party through his enforcer Louis “the Fox” Taglianetti (b. 1903). In 1965, his gambling chief and underboss Frank “Butsey” Morelli (b. 1896) dies of throat cancer; thinking “The Man” weakened, burglar Raymond “Baby” Curcio tries robbing Patriarca’s brother Joseph’s house and meets a fatal comeuppance. In 1968, Patriarca’s soldiers kill at least three more rivals and possible informants.

FBI pressure eventually shows results. Patriarca cuts out Joseph “the Animal” Barboza (b. 1931), a former light-heavyweight boxer and contract killer, from the Office for his flamboyant excesses in 1966. From prison, Barboza cuts a deal with the Feds, and the FBI indicts Patriarca in June 1967 for the 1966 murder of Providence bookie Willie Marfeo, trying and convicting him in 1969. The Bureau also flips “Red” Kelley, whose testimony indicts and convicts Enrico “the Referee” Tameleo (b. 1901), Patriarca’s underboss, for the 1965 murder of Teddy Deegan in Boston. (Courts later overturn Tameleo’s conviction, when evidence surfaces that FBI agent H. Paul Rico (b. 1925) perjured himself and suborned witnesses including Kelley.) Patriarca goes to Atlanta Federal Prison for five years, then serves two years in prison in Rhode Island (his parole letter is signed by Joseph Bevilacqua), running “the Office” from behind bars with his son Ray Jr. (b. 1945) as nominal figurehead.

Two Offices, One Fate

While Patriarca reigns in Providence, the Fate climbs to power in New York (FoDG, p. 288). So how does Patriarca’s reign fit into the shadowy world of sorcery and the Unnatural? Depending on whose undependable testimony you buy, Patriarca either deals narcotics through cut-outs or not at all, a pair of possible models for his dealings with the Fate. He deals with the New York families mostly through Tameleo (a Bonanno), and through his made man Nicholas “Nicky” Bianco (b. 1932), a Colombo associate. It’s possible that Patriarca keeps the Fate at arm’s length inadvertently, by keeping New York at arm’s length from his turf.

Regardless of Patriarca’s sensitivities, the Fate and Stephen Alzis want things in Providence, and in New England in general. But Alzis has the other Five Families to overawe; he may be slightly overextended reaching out to Providence. Does Patriarca use the Unnatural to fight the Fate? Was he one of the “hi-jackers” who opened alchemical coffins meant for Charles Dexter Ward in January 1928? Did he find another passage into the Pawtuxet cellar, and clear it out? Did he hear stories on the Providence docks, or run rum with weirdly bulging-eyed sailors? Perhaps he has some use for mind-switching witchcraft – he did, after all, get out of prison in Massachusetts in 1938 (for possession of stolen jewelry – an Innsmouth tiara perhaps?) after only four months by sending “an unknown girl” to bribe Massachusetts Governor Hurley.

Or does Patriarca hate and fear the Mythos’ poison even more than he hates and fears Alzis’ Lords? Possibly as a kid he got a bad scare playing in the abandoned Starry Wisdom Church on Federal Hill, just down Atwells Avenue from his own Spirito Santo Church. Maybe he was one of the Italians holding candles to hold back the Haunter of the Dark that August night in 1935. And now he’s holding more than candles, and his connections might let him pull in DELTA GREEN to help him light them up.


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.

“I said to him, ‘What disguise will hide me from the world?’ … He looked at me with his large but indecipherable face. ‘You want a safe disguise, do you? You want a dress which will guarantee you harmless; a dress in which no one would ever look for a bomb?’ I nodded. He suddenly lifted his lion’s voice. ‘Why, then, dress up as an anarchist, you fool!’”

— G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

I’ve been reading a pair of books by the pair of spies who consecutively headed the Disguise Section of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services (OTS), Antonio Mendez and the then Jonna Goeser (now Jonna Mendez). The Master of Disguise (1999) is a relatively straightforward memoir by Mendez; The Moscow Rules (2019) re-tells some of the stories in the earlier book but ties in some now-declassified missions such as the CKTAW weapons-lab tap, on which Mendez ran the disguise-and-evasion component.

Antonio Mendez meeting Jimmy Carter in 1980

Antonio Mendez meeting Jimmy Carter in 1980 — OR IS IT?

A long-time fan of stage magic, Mendez also pioneered the re-introduction of illusion and misdirection as key techniques of disguise and evasion. Ever since 1953, when the CIA recruited the magician John Mulholland to train its agents in (and write a manual of) sleight-of-hand for brush passes and covert drink-dosing, the Agency has paid at least some attention to its flashier brethren. (Mulholland stayed with the Agency as a consultant through at least 1958, developing a set of covert hand signals and investigating ESP.) Mendez specifically adapted stage techniques such as “keep them comfortable” — let the audience think they’ve seen through the illusion — and forced aversion — a reverse of the gorgeous assistant drawing the viewer, something unsettling that viewers instinctively avoid — in counter-surveillance techniques.

 

In Night’s Black Agents, the Agents use Filch for brush passes and the like. For evasion through misdirection, allow a one-time 3- to 4-point refresh of Surveillance for a clever description of how you accomplished the task right under the enemy’s eyes (“keep them comfortable”) or how you got them to look away for just long enough (forced aversion).

Spy Gear: Disguise

To hear Mendez tell it, at least, CIA disguise tech made a giant leap in a decade under his direction, mostly the result of his decision in 1971 to consult with Hollywood makeup genius John Chambers. Chambers, who designed Spock’s ears and the apes in Planet of the Apes, was also a diehard Cold Warrior, always up for experimentation. Here’s a quick rundown (using Mendez’ terminology, which is almost certainly bogus) of the developments in disguise between 1971 and 1981.

FINESSE: Agents can use this quick-drying liquid flesh to paint on any new facial features they like, available in varying skin tones. Available in the early 1970s, and possibly earlier if DELTA GREEN went to Hollywood before the Agency did. Requires a Disguise test to apply, but lowers Difficulty of tests against being recognized by 1.

GAMBIT: This thin face mask and long gloves allow an Agent to appear to be of a different race, complexion, or facial type (with FINESSE inserts). Available ca. 1971, used by the CIA in Indochina. Requires no Disguise test to apply, allows Agents to blend into a crowd. Lowers visual-recognition Alertness Modifier of non-expert (Alertness Modifier <+1) spotters by 1. This is what Agents should use if they don’t plan on encountering active surveillance.

SAM: Stands for Semi-Articulated Mask. This half-face mask composed of several small pieces of latex joins up with the eyes using FINESSE. It allows full mobility of and use of the mouth; it often incorporates a beard (less conspicuous behind the Iron Curtain, or infiltrating student movements). Debuted ca. 1977, based on the ape masks in Planet of the Apes (1968). Requires a spend of 1 point of Disguise to apply; provides a pool of 3 points to spend avoiding being recognized (usually Disguise or Surveillance tests). Pool is 4 points if a beard can be inconspicuously incorporated into the SAM.

DOTR: Stands for Disguise-on-the-Run. The CIA uses a New England tailor to create specialty clothing, in this case fully-reversible clothing that by itself allows the agent to re-roll a failed counter Surveillance test after donning it. The full DOTR developed in the late 1970s incorporates compressed garments that can be put on (or put themselves on) over the Agent’s clothes while walking, in about 45 seconds. The late DOTR changes cut and type, even going from a diplomat’s trench coat to the fuzzy pink dress of an elderly lady. Changing into the full DOTR requires a spend of 1 Disguise point but provides a 3-point refresh of your Surveillance pool against a spotter or tail.

DAGGER: This thin face mask fits into a small paper bag, and can be applied by touch and while walking. Development began in 1978; it becomes available in 1981. By 1989, a DAGGER mask is completely paper-thin, can markedly change your appearance, hold makeup, and appear natural even to trained observers. A Dagger mask is one-use, and cannot stand up to rain, heavy physical activity, or being punched in the face. It provides 5 pool points (3 or 4 for earlier models) of Disguise or Surveillance to escape enemy searchers; when the pool is empty, the mask is too badly degraded or sweaty to keep using.

If the CIA had all of this gear by 1981, they very well might have straight-up Mission: Impossible face mask technology (Double Tap, p. 64) by now. At the very least, between 3D printing and micro-thin fiber materials, the ability to print a skin-thin, photographically realistic (passing video surveillance and anything but up-close examination), self-adhesive DAGGER face mask to resemble a specific target almost has to be off-the-shelf tech by now. That would lower Disguise Difficulty for specific impersonations by 1 or 2, as well as providing the other benefits of a DAGGER.

DELTA GREEN might well have looked into such matters earlier, so Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents could justify FINESSE and GAMBIT, and perhaps specialty SAMs intended to provide the Innsmouth Look.

“A disguise is only a tool. Before you use any tradecraft tool, you have to set up the operation for the deception.”

— CIA agent “Bull Monahan”

TFFB: Just Don’t Look

The Agents use Intimidation (to spot a psychological weak point) or an Investigative 2-point spend of Shrink (to identify a phobia either from a psych profile or surveillance) on their future watcher. An Agent under surveillance by that watcher then pushes that weak point or triggers that phobia by their actions. For the next round, the Difficulty of their Surveillance test to escape watch (or their Disguise test to suddenly don a DAGGER or similar) lowers by 2.

TTTB: Know Your Audience

Europeans rest their weight on both feet; Americans usually favor one or the other. Americans and South Asians make eye contact with the opposite sex at different speeds. And so forth; knowing tiny cultural details allows you to blend into a crowd of foreigners. By spending Human Terrain, the winger can add pool points to the striker’s Disguise or Surveillance pools to blend into such a backdrop.


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“They say much of blood and bloom, and of others which I comprehend not, though I guess what they mean; but nevertheless they tell us all things which we want to know.”

— Abraham Van Helsing, in Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Through the persons of writer-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the BBC (and its pals at Netflix) has vouchsafed to us in this year of our Lord 2020 yet another tilt at the Dracula windmill, this time in a three-episode limited series. (Hereafter, “D2020“. Also hereafter, spoilers.) The specific merits of this iteration aside (which include a rich, Hammer-inspired camera palette and a credibly terrifying Dracula when he shuts up) it also — as with every version of Dracula, or of Dracula — provides a fair few gameable spins on the myth, and on vampires. For example, the bite of D2020 Dracula creates revenants (they look like zombies, but probably use mostly Feral stats (NBA, p. 150)); only a few of his victims survive Infection with enough personality to become true self-willed vampires themselves. The many, many boxes and crates (and habitrails, and fridges) of ferals work very effectively on screen, and likely works well at the table — it makes those warehouse fights more interesting, that’s for sure.

So let’s settle in and dip our fingers in the BBC’s goblet, shall we?

Dracula, hungry for learning

New Power: Drain Knowledge

When Dracula drinks any blood from a human in D2020, he knows their name and something of their background almost immediately. When he drains them, he picks up their entire knowledge base, possibly even including physical skills. (In episode 3, he complains of the taste of a physicist and a professional tennis player.) His language patterns shift, and he even (briefly) picks up a meaningless exercise habit from modern Londoners. Even by smell, he can detect members of a familiar bloodline and something about them.

Vampires with Drain Knowledge gain immediate, surface knowledge of any human whose blood they taste. A big sip (at least 1 Health) gives them the equivalent of a 0-point spend, or a few minutes’ Google search: name, background, emotional state, family connections, etc. Bigger drinks burrow deeper, uncovering closely held secrets; when the amount of Health consumed equals the target’s Stability (or kills the target), the vampire knows every aspect of the target’s thoughts and memories, including buried traumas or brainwashed secrets. (An Agent can resist giving up a secret with a successful Stability test against a Difficulty equal to 4+ their lost Health.) Even a quick gulp (2+ Health drained) provides language and social skills that allow the vampire to briefly blend into the target’s society (the equivalent of 1 point in High Society or Reassurance or another relevant Interpersonal ability); completely draining a suitable target provides technical skills if needed (e.g., a Transylvanian warlord can suddenly use Skype). As a rule of thumb, each point of Health drained past the first provides the equivalent of 1 point in an ability.

In D2020, this seems like a free (almost unavoidable) power; if the vampire can control it, it costs 1 point of Aberrance per target or per scene.

Node: The Jonathan Harker Foundation

The third episode also shares a liter or two of DNA with The Dracula Dossier, not least its covert vampirological operation. In D2020, this secretive medical charity operates out of (and beneath) Cholmely House, a crumbling Victorian building in Whitby near the Abbey ruins. Named for the dead fiancée of Mina Murray, built on the infrastructure of the nuns’ order at the Hospital of St. Joseph and Ste. Mary (DH, p. 230), and backed by mysterious financiers, it conducts hematological research and searches for the body of Dracula, presumed lost at sea with the Demeter. Its staff includes doctors and mercenaries, and its facilities include a glass-walled prison with a remote-controlled sun roof.

EDOM: Obviously, this was the first version of the vampire prison, before EDOM built the holding facilities on HMS Proserpine. In some campaigns, this might be the only vampire prison, or a staging area for Proserpine transfers (DH, p. 178). This also fits a much smaller version of EDOM (even Dustier or more Mirrored than on EFM p. 58), one that has to contract out mercenaries (via a shell corporation) for security instead of depending on the SAS’ E Squadrons. Either way, its guards use the Special Operations Soldiers stats (NBA, p. 70).

CIA: Or the Russians, or the Chinese, or whomever. Some other agency runs the Harker Foundation, tasked to steal a march on EDOM by trawling the seas off Whitby for lost vampires — either prisoners escaping from Proserpine, or vampirized sailors from the Demeter crawling anoxically over the bottom of the North Sea. Or perhaps, as speculated on DH p. 178, Whitby is one of the magical gates to England, so anyone looking to snare a vampire does well to set up shop here. Either way, they have to keep things to one building and use deniable mercs to avoid MI5 or EDOM noticing.

Conspiracy: Boy, Dracula got ahold of a WiFi-enabled tablet pretty easily in that show, didn’t he? What looks like an idiot plot is actually the action of Dracula’s sleeper agents, left behind in Whitby to infiltrate just such a facility. He funds it through cut-outs, and allows it to operate on the “keep your enemies closer” school of thought, and as a way to release useful blood samples or lore into the British medical stream.

Connections: At one point, the Foundation canonically has a Vial of Blood (only a single tube rather than the jar on DH p. 284), and a Legacy (Zoë Helsing instead of Dr. Jacqueline Seward (DH, p. 47) but you can switch those out). Given the number of vampiric revenants lying around (nine in Highgate Cemetery alone), the Foundation may have synthesized any of the Seward Serum (DH, p. 51), Serum V (DH, p. 162), Blomberg Serum (DH, p. 282), or Luria Formula (DH, p. 114). If it’s EDOM, it’s part of Dr. Drawes’ operation (DH, p. 50); it may also employ the Pharmaceutical Researcher (DH, p. 128). Its charity work could overlap or partner with Heal the Children (DH, p. 150). Its mysterious backer might be the venture capital group (or government black budget) behind Nox Therapeutics (DH, p. 162), which might have memos or (apparently) even regular Skype session logs documenting their connection. Since we know it runs human trials on the surface, its tunnels potentially even hold Camp Midnight (DH, p. 252) or the British (or private-sector) equivalent. Given its connections to the Budapest hospital, the Hungarian (DH, p. 94) likely knows enough to set Agents (or the Journalist; DH, p. 120) on its trail.


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

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