In the present COVID-19 crisis, many of us, myself included, have canceled our in-person roleplaying sessions to comply with social distancing or shelter-in-place public health regimes across the world.

This Thursday, after a hiatus, I’ll be switching my in-person game to remote. (I’ve just started “Canadian Shield”, an extremely variant Fall of Delta Green series.)

As more tips and tricks for remote play come up I’ll share them with you here on the Pelgrane site. Let’s get started, though, with what I’ve learned during previous forays into online tabletop.

1. Use the platform you already know.

Everyone who has already racked up extensive remote play experience expresses a preference for a particular combo of tools for video conferencing and the virtual play space.

For video, Discord, Zoom, Google Hangouts and to a lesser extent Skype all have their adherents. Each brings its own set of pluses and minuses. In the end your choice of video app may depend on the quirks of each player’s device setup. You may wind up shuffling through a bunch of them before you find the one that happens to function for your entire group.

As far as play spaces go, Roll20 already has resources for 13th Age and GUMSHOE. We’ve just added DramaSystem.

If you’re already familiar with a video conferencing app and/or virtual tabletop, skip the learning curve and use that. It works; don’t fix it.

2. If you haven’t done this before, I prefer Google Hangouts and Slack.

Google Hangouts hasn’t let me down yet. It’s free, and pretty seamlessly handles switching to the person currently speaking. That’s the most important feature of a video app for game play and it does it well. Google has announced that they’re ending this service soon, but if I understand their PR correctly, what they’re actually doing is rebranding their video chat to sound more business-friendly. Google can hook you on a service and then whip it out from under you like a rug, but I’m guessing that we’re safe when this one changes to its new incarnation. I wouldn’t bet on that happening according to its original timetable, either.

For GUMSHOE and DramaSystem, I use as my virtual tabletop a tool not remotely designed for that, the group project messaging platform, Slack. It is a platform I use for other purposes every day and know how to use. I already use it for face-to-face when running The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, having found it the best solution for serving electronic Shock and Injury Cards. When teaching that system I upload a card image to the game’s main channel so everyone can feel its horror. I also drop the cards to each player, in our private message inbox. When they discard cards, I delete them from the private message inbox, so that it contains only the cards currently held.

Maps, images, and other handouts I upload to the main channel as well.

Slack’s advantage over its competitors in its category lies in its ease of use. A newbie can immediately figure out its simple and intuitive interface.

I’d use Slack for any game that relies primarily on dialogue and description, which describes both GUMSHOE and DramaSystem.

In fact I’d probably use it to run 13th Age. I don’t use a battlemap when running that in person, so wouldn’t bother with one in remote play either.

A game that does require a tactical map will naturally push you toward one of the purpose built virtual tabletops. These all have to handle D&D and Pathfinder. If you’re playing a game of that crunchiness online you’ve bought into the extra handling cost.

3. Leave in the Socializing.

Especially now, much of the point of an online game is to feel the connectedness we might ordinarily seek out around a table, at a con, or in a game cafe. The formality of the online experience might tempt you to cut right away to the case. You may know each other less well, or not at all, if playing online. Even so, give everybody time to chat a bit before getting started.

4. Expect a shorter session.

Though this varies for every group, in general the online meeting format promotes an efficiency you may find yourself envying when you return to face-to-face. Video conferencing requires participants to be conscious of who has the floor at any given moment. It reduces crosstalk and kibitzing. People used to conducting real meetings on video tend to step up to help guide the discussion and move toward problem-solving. The software does a good bit of your traffic management as GM for you.

For this reason you’ll find that remote play eats up story faster than a leisurely in-person session. The pace of any given episode more closely resembles the tighter concentration typical of a con game group that has found its rhythm. Your group will likely decide what to do faster, and then go and do it with fewer side tangents, than they would at your regular home table.

When this happens, you may find yourself wondering if you shouldn’t add more plot to keep your ending further away from your beginning. Instead, embrace this as the dynamic operating as it should. If it takes you three hours to hit five or six solid scenes, where in person it would take four, that’s a good thing.

5. Expect a more taxing session.

In addition to respecting the pace your session wants to have, you should aim for shorter sessions because the experience of gaming remotely takes more out of you, and each of your players, than face-to-face will.

Many of you will be sitting in less comfortable chairs than you’re used to being in. Those with home offices may already have been in those chairs for an entire work day already.

The concentration required to pay attention to people on video conferencing taxes the brain more than face-to-face. You’re trying to assimilate the same amount of communication from one another with fewer cues to work with. This tires any group, physically and mentally. Expect that and pace your game accordingly.

When you see a time-consuming setpiece sequence coming up, check the clock to see if you’ll be able to do it full justice given these constraints. Never be reluctant to knock off early and leave folks wanting more next time you all join up.

6: For Slack, use the Dicebot app.

To return to a platform-specific point, the Dicebot Slack app allows any participant to roll dice right in the channel. It easily does the d6 plus spend modifier for GUMSHOE. It inherently reminds players to announce their pool point spends before rolling, another neat advantage over physical dice.

Speaking of games that scorn the battlemap, Dicebot also handles the more complicated positive d6 + negative d6 + modifier roll seen in Feng Shui.

7. Whatever the platform, use a dice app if you players can possibly be coaxed into it.

Some players need that tactile dice-touching fix. I wouldn’t force online rolling on them, but having rolls take place visually in front of everyone does enhance their emotional impact by allowing everyone to see and react to the results.

Dice provide suspense . A die roller, in whatever platform, shares that edge of the seat moment when you see who succeeds and who’s about to take a Shock card.

8. Use a shared Google Doc for note-taking.

Since they’re all on a device anyhow, encourage your players to contribute to the group chronicle by setting up a shared Google Doc. Gussy it up with a graphic touch or two to build tone and theme.

9. Keep online versions of character sheets.

You’d think players won’t lose paper character sheets if they’re not leaving the house, but of course we misplace stuff in our own places all the time.

For GUMSHOE, the highly recommended Black Book app does all of the work of keeping online character sheets for you. It has just extended its trial period for player accounts.

Absent a specific tool, keep updated character sheets in a Dropbox folder or, for games where characters are simple as they are in DramaSystem, in a Google Sheet. I’ve done this for my “Canadian Shield” game.

Stay tuned for more tips. I look forward to the day when I can update this post to remove references to the pandemic as a current event. Until then, stay safe and, as much as you possibly can, the hell inside.

The BORELLUS CONNECTION manuscript was too nightmarish and vast to be constrained by any binding our printer could conceive; therefore, we were obliged to remove some material from the book. It’s preserved here as a series of Page XX articles. As Orne’s mysterious correspondent in Philadelphia warned us, “no Part must be missing if the finest Effects are to be had”; therefore, we have categorised these cuttings as FINEST EFFECTS.

All materials tagged FINEST EFFECTS are Handler’s Eyes Only – prospective players of the Borellus Connection campaign are instructed not to read these articles.

Operation SECOND LOOK originally opened up with an action scene where the player characters accompany the Italian police to intercept a suspected drug shipment. It all goes poorly, but interrogating the smugglers leads into the drug-deal subplot in Beirut. For reasons of space, this scene was cut and the leads moved to a more conventional briefing – however, if you want to give players a taste of day-to-day Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs activities, give run this scene before the initial briefing scene, When The Boat Comes In.

Torre San Giovanni is a small fishing village in the heel of Italy, about thirty miles south of the city of Lecce. It’s a sleepy, picturesque little place, named for the 16thcentury tower that watches over the harbor. Fishing and olive groves make up most of the local economy.

According to information from a BNDD informant in Turkey, the Unione Corse intend to bring a shipment of morphine base ashore here tonight. The smugglers are using a small fishing boat, one of dozens that work along the shore here. The informant claims the Unione Corse will transfer the morphine from a large freighter to the fishing boat at sea, and then bring it ashore, where it’ll be collected by a Unione Corse courier to bring it to Marseille.

The BNDD plan is to let the transfer go ahead, and wait until the fishing boat gets to the shore, in the hopes of intercepting both the fishermen and the courier. There’s an Italian coast guard ship standing by to stop the freighter at sea.

The players get to run the shore-side ambush. They don’t know who the courier is – presumably, it’ll be a truck or other vehicle to carry the packages of morphine base. They don’t know which fishing boat it is – there are a dozen boats coming in that evening. And they need to keep undercover until the jaws of the trap close, to ensure any watchers in the town don’t signal a warning to the fishing boat. In addition to the Agents, they’ve got a dozen eager local policeofficers at their disposal.

Let the players come up with whatever ambush plan they wish.

The night wears on. The heat of the day fades as the waters of the Ionian sea lap on the beach. Most of the fishing boats won’t come back until dawn, and as the sky begins to lighten in the east, a few locals come down to the docks to wait for the returning boats and help landing the cache. If the Agents aren’t carefully hidden, call for a Conceal or Disguise test (Difficulty 4) from the most obviously suspicious Agent; if the test fails, there’s some whispering and muttering from the workers assembled on the shore as they realise something’s amiss.

One by one, the boats come in.

  • 1-point Notice spend: A light flashes out at sea – and a moment later, there’s an answering flash from the hills above the town.

Then, a car – a new one, big and black – comes down the road at speed and pulls up at the pier as the fishing boat Pierro approaches.

If the Agents hold back, the transfer goes ahead in the most obvious fashion ever – two bales of contraband get hauled out of the cabin of the Pierro and loaded into the trunk of the car. One of the men from the car opens one bale and hands out free packets of cigarettes to everyone standing around the dock as a bribe to stay quiet.

The Raid

There are two men in the car, and another four on board Pierro. They’re all small-time cigarette smugglers, bringing in cheap Turkish cigarettes to avoid import duty (they also deal in small amounts of heroin). If the Agents have a solid plan for the ambush, it all goes smoothly; otherwise, it gets messy. The pair in the car (Paulo Sciarra and Vito Adami) attempt to drive off, while the four on the boat either try to flee on foot across the beach, or cast off from the pier and return to sea. The initial assumption of the criminals is that they’ve been ambushed by a rival gang; if the players flash badges and shout that they’re cops – and spend a point of Intimidation, Languages or Agency– they can convince the criminals not to fight back. Otherwise, throw in foot or car chases and/or brawls to taste.

If Sciarra and Adami manage to escape in their car, then move the core clue about the Beirut deal to the fishermen.

Aftermath

At first, it all looks like a debacle driven by bad information – dozens of cops, the Guardia de Finanza and the American BNDD, all for what? A few hundred packets of cigarettes? The Unione Corse must be laughing at them. There’s lots of shouting, finger-pointing, and arguments over who is to blame for this farce. The player characters can get involved (making a show of support for the BNDD is worth a 2-point Bureaucracy pool of favours), or keep their heads down and keep working.

  • A thorough search of the fishing boat Pierro discovers (Conceal test, Difficulty 4) a hidden compartment in the bilges. There’s a scrap of plastic wrap snagged on a loose screw, and Chemistry or Pharmacy discovers it tests positive for morphine base – there’s no heroin on the boat now.
  • There’s a small amount of heroin in the car, enough to charge Sciarra and Adami as dealers (they supply heroin to tourists in Lecce and Brindisi).
  • The freighter is clean, although some of the crew admit under questioning that they smuggled cigarettes out of Turkey and threw them down to the Pierro when it passed nearby.

Questioning the Prisoners

Interrogation of the fishermendiscovers the following:

  • They’re not part of any organized crime – just a few local crooks.
  • They admit that they’ve helped bring heroin ashore before, but didn’t ask any questions.
  • 1-point Interrogation spend(or using the discovery of the smuggling compartment as a leveraged clue): When they brought heroin ashore, it was from a different freighter, the SS Invicta.
    • Traffic Analysisand some research: The SS Invicta is at sea; she departed Marseille a few days ago and is en route to Beirut with a cargo of machine parts.
  • A 1-point spend of Reassurance, Streetwise or Negotiation gets the name of a friend of one of the fisherman, a pal who lives in Beirut and knows the city’s underworld – Ghasif Saad. Ghasif is a free network contact (see Local Contacts,p. XX)

Interrogation of Sciarra and Adami yields more useful information:

  • They’re small-time heroin dealers.
  • They’ve heard that there’s a war brewing within the Unione Corse, a struggle to see who becomes caïd (godfather) of the Corsican mafia.
    • A 1-point Streetwise spend identifies some possible contenders – the Francesci clan, the Guerinis, the Venturis – but the rules of omertáwithin the Unione Corse are strong, and those inside the organisation don’t speak to those outside. It’s entirely possible that such a war has been going on for years.
  • Core clue: They’ve also heard that there’s a big heroin deal coming down. It’s happening in Beirut. They don’t know any more.
    • HUMINT: They’re trying to pass off rumour and scuttlebutt as genuine inside information; this alleged big deal in Beirut might be nothing.

 

In the latest episode of their multi-layered podcast, Ken and Robin talk narrative voices in RPG play, Whitey Bulger & MK-ULTRA, curse tablets, and Oswald Wirth & Stanislas de Guaita.

The BORELLUS CONNECTION manuscript was too nightmarish and vast to be constrained by any binding our printer could conceive; therefore, we were obliged to remove some material from the book. It’s preserved here as a series of Page XX articles. As Orne’s mysterious correspondent in Philadelphia warned us, “no Part must be missing if the finest Effects are to be had”; therefore, we have categorised these cuttings as FINEST EFFECTS.

All materials tagged FINEST EFFECTS are Handler’s Eyes Only – prospective players of the Borellus Connection campaign are instructed not to read these articles.

Over the course of the Borellus Connection, the players come into contact with the outer fringes of Orne’s criminal network, and follow the connections until they reach Orne himself. If the players follow the clues in individual missions without realising the wider context, they’ll get to that terrible confrontation at the end of the campaign. However, ambitious players may wish to investigate the network between operations. Orne’s paranoia about detection means that digging up clues is extremely difficult – witnesses disappear, safehouses vanish overnight, arrested crooks either keep silent or die mysteriously in prison – but you can use these background investigations to foreshadow upcoming elements of the campaign (“you pick up a rumour about some German gunman called de Kleist who shot up a Turkish smuggling ring a few years ago – he may be connected to Orne”) or give the players alternate entry vectors to operations.

Another possible line of inquiry is the mostly-defunct Order of Almousin-Metraton, the occult secret society of necromancers.

Investigating the Network

Accounting: The French Connection launders its profits in Nassau, then deposits them in accounts in Switzerland and Lebanon. When Orne needs to spend his drug money to further his occult research or bodysnatching schemes, he either gets an advance from local drug lords (“give my servant two thousand dollars now, and I’ll ensure you get an added heroin shipment straight from Marseile next month”), or taps his funds in the Lebanese banks. Accounting can follow the money.

Criminology identifies the various gangs and criminal syndicates with their fingers in the opium trade, giving clues about local groups who might be involved in Orne’s schemes. Combined with Streetwise, it’s good for gathering rumours about shadowy players and sinister, occult-tinged enforcers like Charrière.

Pharmacy can be used to test heroin purity. Most heroin, even before it’s cut for sale, reaches only 70% purity; the French Connection’s old chemist, Joseph Cesari, was known as ‘Mr. 98%’ for his exceedingly good product. Orne, if he put his mind to it, could do even better, but he often experiments with his product (see Essential Smack, p. XX), so a purity of around 90% indicates Orne-made junk.

Traffic Analysis lets the Agents track drug shipments; they can guess how often shipments are made, trace legitimate chemical purchasers, work out when local jugglers will run out of product and have to obtain more from distributors, or correlate international arrivals with sudden activity in the distribution network, giving clues about the smuggling methods used by the network.

Investigating the Order

Art or Archaeology spots old signs of the Order in places. Portraits of scholars or great thinkers might have the distinctive A/M sigil hidden somewhere in the painting, or scratched on their tombs. (If the ascending node is slightly larger, that indicates that the subject was once an initiate of the Order. If the descending node is larger, the subject’s saltes were taken by a Brother and are available for trade.)

Architecture can identify common traits that recur, regardless of the local style of building or the age of the structure – extensive underground cellars, drains for disposal of failed experiments, secret doors, star-windows in high attic rooms.

Occult recalls rumours of a secret society that’s supposed to include every famous mind in history as members.

  • The society’s ultimate goal is, depending on the writer, to uncover the secrets of the past, to achieve union with God, or to bring about future enlightenment

Traffic Analysis orCriminology applied to the above clues concludes that the Order of Almousin-Metatron consists of at least two groups – low-ranking hangers-on and associates who operate on a purely local level, but copy the symbols and rituals of the Order to proclaim how connected they are, and an inner higher-ranking cabal that doesn’t need to show off as much.

 

 

The BORELLUS CONNECTION manuscript was too nightmarish and vast to be constrained by any binding our printer could conceive; therefore, we were obliged to remove some material from the book. It’s preserved here as a series of Page XX articles. As Orne’s mysterious correspondent in Philadelphia warned us, “no Part must be missing if the finest Effects are to be had”; therefore, we have categorised these cuttings as FINEST EFFECTS.

All materials tagged FINEST EFFECTS are Handler’s Eyes Only – prospective players of the Borellus Connection campaign are instructed not to read these articles. 

The ultimate target of the Agents’ investigation in The Borellus Connection is the necromancer Simon Orne. His background is described in the introduction to the campaign – here’s a more detailed timeline of his movements and activities across history.

1649: Born in Salem.

1652: His father John Orne purchases a farm near the village.

1662: Birth of Joseph Curwen in Salem-Village

1680: Joins congregation headed by the preacher George Burroughs, later hanged a witch. Another member of the congregation is Edwin Hutchinson, a local landowner (and necromancer).

1683: Burroughs departs Salem for Maine, ostensibly over a dispute about payment.

1686: Curwen returns from his travels overseas and becomes a close friend of Hutchinson and Orne.

1690: They make a breakthrough in the woods behind Hutchinson’s house: they successfully invoke Nyarlathotep in his mask of the Black Man, and through him established communion with Yog-Sothoth in the form of ‘Umr at-Tawil, “the Prolonged of Life.” From that point, none of the members of the circle seem to age.

1692: The Salem Witch trials. Orne is named as a witch by Hepzibah Lawson and Amity How in 1692, but escapes prosecution – either his case is dismissed for lack of evidence, or he co-operates with the authorities, trading information for leniency. His master in the coven, George Burroughs, is arrested in Maine and hanged in Salem. Other members of the coven flee – “G” to Philadelphia, Edwin Hutchinson to Transylvania, Joseph Curwen to Providence, Rhode Island.

1710-1719: Orne’s failure to grow visibly old draws attention in Salem.

1720: Orne leaves Salem and travels to Europe. He puts his property in the town into the care of trusted servants, although they are enjoined not to visit the house by the woods – the former home of Edwin Hutchison, later purchased by Orne in 1705.

1723: Orne is initiated into the Order of Almousin-Metraton in Malta.

1730: Orne travels briefly to Philadelphia to participate in the opening of the first Freemason’s Lodge in America.

1731: In Egypt, Orne is involved in the murder of the ruling Sheikh al-Balad, as part of a scheme to seize control of certain tombs under the city. Orne spends six years living in the City of the Dead outside Cairo.

1750: “Jedediah” Orne returns to Salem, claiming to be Simon’s son. He provides documents in his “father”’s hand, attesting to his ownership of the properties in Salem.

1751: Joseph Curwen writes a letter to ‘Simon’, describing a ritual to invoke Yog-Sothoth in order to affect future destiny, ensuring that of his “seede of Olde shal one be borne who shal looke Back, tho’ know’g not what he seekes’.

1771: Letters from Providence citizens (likely the ones who attacked Joseph Curwen’s farm) to Rev. Thomas Barnard of Salem arouse more suspicions about Orne.

Orne flees to Baltimore, adopts the name ‘Isaac Pelham’.

1780: Eager to avoid suspicion, Orne becomes involved with a circle of physicians and chemists in the Baltimore area. He redoubles investments in shipping and real estate in the city, and contributes handsomely to the building of public buildings including Baltimore’s courthouse and city hall.

1807: The “Doctor’s Riot”, A mob burns down a private anatomical theatre operated by Dr. John Beale Davidge.

1827: Aided by money from Orne, the Washington Medical College opens, despite objections from the rival University of Maryland Medical school.

1830s: Demand for cadavers in Baltimore rises; an infamous grave-robber known as Frank the Spade becomes well known for his ghoulish talents.

1833: The college moves to new facilities opposite city hall. Tunnels under the city are said to be used to move bodies unseen.

1835: The college’s founder, Dr. Horatio Gates Jameson, departs for Cincinnati. Enrolment numbers at the college decline precipitously; oddly, the rate at which corpses are stolen continues to increase.

1840s: Orne invests in Philadelphia’s burgeoning fertiliser and chemical industries.

1851: The college closes; two years later, a mob attempts to burn down the derelict building, claiming that the devil haunts the building’s cellars.

1853: Orne leaves Baltimore, travelling to Cairo. He digs something up from an incorrectly marked tomb; when resurrected, it attacks him, scarring his face. Wounded, he flees to Prague.

1854: Orne purchases a house at Kleinstrasse 11 in the Altstadt, establishing an identity as “Josef Nadek”. He regularly corresponds with Edwin Hutchinson, who continues to reside in Transylvania as “Count Ferenczy”. He becomes quietly influential in various occult and Masonic circles. Graverobbings in Prague’s cemeteries increase.

1860: Orne establishes new branches of the Order of Almousin-Metraton in Prague, Munich and Paris.

1924: Charles Dexter Ward visits Orne before travelling on to Transylvania.

1925: Through his criminal contacts Paul Carbone and Francois Spirito, Orne imports mummies and other relics from Egypt.

1928: Orne’s house is totally wrecked in a single night by Ógafracoth. “Nadek” flees, leading the creature away from Orne’s secret laboratory that still survives in Prague.

Castle Ferenczy is destroyed in a titan explosion.

1929: Orne establishes himself in Munich, using his Masonic contacts to arrange the purchase of an old house where he recreates his Prague laboratory. He secretly maintains the Prague lab, intending to return there when circumstances permit.

1930: Paul Carbone and Francois Spirito employ genius chemist Joseph Cesari to produce heroin from a secret lab in Marseille.

1935: Riots and Nazi Party condemnation of occult lodges and Freemasonry impel Orne to flee Munich for Marseille, where he has contacts from his days as a merchant trader. He advises Joseph Cesari on pharmaceutical techniques. Orne adopts the name “Jacques Vènice,” vènicemeaning “scar” in Corsican.

1937: Orne establishes a new branch of the Order of Almousin-Metraton in Marseille.

1942: Orne quarrels with his business partners for their collaboration with the Nazis, and switches allegiance to the Guérini crime family. He deploys his Custodes to kill collaborators for the Brutus network of the French resistance, building up credit with the victorious allies to ensure he’s protected after the war.

1953: Establishment of the “French Connection”, linking the Turkish opium trade to the United States drugs market.

Orne returns to Baltimore as “Edwin Pelham” and purchases the site of his former residence.

1964: Unione Corse chemist Joseph Cesari is arrested; the Guérinis demand that Orne take over as lead chemist. Orne agrees, but secretly uses Unione Corse connections to pursue his worship of Yog-Sothoth.

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Continuing from last month, we look at the Dreamhounds of Paris player characters who survived to the 1960s and how they might make cameo appearances as sources of information in The Fall of Delta Green.

Agents seeking Giorgio de Chirico (1888- 1978), painter of eerie, depopulated landscapes strewn with Classical debris, find him in his home near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Still busily at work on new canvases, he long ago abandoned his so-called metaphysical style, no longer wanting anything to do with the Dreamlands. Should agents show up brandishing one of his old paintings, he declares it a forgery. Ironically, it may be a forgery of his own creation, as his old style commands higher prices than his current, Rubens-inspired work, and he sometimes pays the rent by dashing one off and signing an old date to it. Art might spot the fraud, giving the group leverage to gain the info they seek from him. He may confess that he still occasionally slips back to the Dreamlands, where he tries his best to revert it to its pre-surrealist state. Nowadays that means removing the Oldenburg stuffed hamburgers and the field of Warhol electric chairs.

Previous to his death in 1968 at 81, agents can locate the cerebral granddaddy of conceptual artists, Marcel Duchamp either in the Greenwich Village New York studio where he secretly putters away on new projects, or at home in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Age has left undimmed the sardonic twinkle in his eyes. Prying information from a reluctant Duchamp may require an agent to lose to him at chess (not a difficult feat), followed by Flattery of his playing skill. The old man might be lured back to the Dreamlands, doubtless in the dream-form of his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy, by the opportunity to play a Grandmaster there. Duchamp remains fast friends with Man Ray, a frequent visitor at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

After a lengthy sojourn in Sedona, New Mexico, the German-born painter, collagist and bird avatar Max Ernst (1891-1976) moved back to France. The agents find him working in his Provence studio alongside his American wife, Dorothea Tanning, also a surrealist painter. Finally financially secure, he ruefully recalls the hunger and occasional danger of his Dreamhounds days. Having once painted a gruesome protective mural to aid his late friend Paul Éluard against a Mythos entity, he might do the same for the team on an Inspiration spend.

Largely retired from a career devoted to theatrical set design, Valentine Hugo lives modestly in a Paris flat. When visited by agents, she maintains a decades-long pretense, claiming to have abandoned painting and drawing. HUMINT shows that she’s lying—and indeed, a locked room contains countless visual works, including one on the easel right now. Even then she says she has stopped showing her work out of shyness, when really she’s doing it for Pickmanesque reasons. Or the paintings act as a portal to the Dreamlands, Leng or Yuggoth. Or she has enemies trapped in the confines of her delicate linework. Hugo dies in 1968, at 80.

René Magritte lives long enough to see his paintings of impossible realism, suffused with deadpan wit, embraced by the counterculture generation. A man of regular habits even during his interactions with the 30s surrealists, he leads a quiet life with his wife Georgette near Brussels. Though he never admits to participation in any supernatural event, he tells the agents what they want to know by couching his memories as fiction. As his final year, 1967, approaches, agents may note outward signs of his pancreatic cancer. After meeting him, the agents are pursued by faceless, bowler-hatted men clad like Belgian bankers.

The painter André Masson (1896 – 1987) has returned to the automatism he practiced in his surrealist days, now through his present viewpoint as a Zen Buddhist. His new faith tempers his turbulent, anarchic personality. The agents may be drawn to Paris flat after learning of his support for Algerian independence, for which he is arrested in 1961. Leveraging this with the aid of French intelligence contacts may allow them to subject him to Interrogation. Secrets he may harbor include not only his Dreamlands activity but Mythos involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which he witnessed first hand. (Thus allowing you to dragoon your copy of Soldiers of Pen and Ink into DELTA GREEN service.)

Even for DELTA GREEN agents, getting access to the world’s most famous artist isn’t easy. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) might take a shine to them if pick up on and echo his contempt for his longtime personal and ideological enemy André Breton. HUMINT shows that his claims never to have been involved with or influenced by the surrealists include a healthy dollop of protesting too much. Picasso still works feverishly at an array of paintings and sculptures, never mind the critics who call them passé and perverse. An unflinching Stalinist (at least in public), his Party connections may be of as much interest to agents as his long-ago Dreamlands jaunts.

The American surrealist photographer and experimental filmmaker Man Ray (1890-1976) lives in Paris’ St. Germain des Pres neighborhood with his wife, the dancer Juliet Browner. Agents may find him in a retrospective mood, as he is either working on his 1963 autobiography Self-Portrait or still has his notes lying around. Naturally the published version omits all the details of filming an experimental film in a supernatural realm, or the time he was nearly devoured by the disembodied lips of ex-lover Lee Miller near the Nameless Rock. Streetwise may permit agents to filch undeveloped film canisters bearing the legend “les fouet de Dylath-Leen.”

Dadaist poet and performance artist Tristan Tzara has stepped back from public life after antagonizing fellow Communists by supporting Hungary’s liberalization movement. His grudge against André Breton continues: his old nemesis deepened his troubles by agreeing with him too loudly. Tzara accepts the occasional prize for his contributions to poetry, studies the works of 15th century poet-criminal François Villon, and promotes African art. When agents ask for his help, he conditions it on a favor in return. They must banish the invisible entity that pursues him. Half a decade ago, it moved into his apartment in Zurich, trapping him there. Now, his health mysteriously failing, he feels its inexorably nearing presence. He’ll tell them anything—anything—so long as they banish it. Presumably the agents do a partial job at best, as Tzara dies of unknown causes on Christmas of 1963.


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.

   where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself    imaginary walls collapse    

– Allen Ginsburg, Howl

Cthulhu City slides into The Fall of Delta Green like a cartridge into a chamber. As written, Great Arkham’s a nightmare reflection of the 1930s, but updating it to the 1960s is relatively trivial. The sinister gas-masked Transport Police and oppressive surveillance state fit perfectly; mistrust of the government resonates even more after the Kennedy assassination and Kent State. Some specific suggestions to bring the city to the era of the Fall.

  • Old Arkham hasn’t changed – so it’s now an absurd throwback, a foolish or desperate attempt to turn the clock back to a pre-war era.
  • The Depression-era Hoovertowns and hoboes in rotting Salamander Fields become drop-outs, dope fiends and draft dodgers.
  • Hippie communes and flower children dance amid the standing stones out in Billington’s Woods near Dunwich.
  • Mayor Ward is more of a Kennedy-esque figure – young, handsome, inspiring, as compelling and sinister as the Black Pharoah of Nyarlathotep.
  • The city’s textile industry has given way to the military-industrial complex – the Northside factories churn out cryptic, obscure machinery for the war effort, but it’s never clear if the components are for Vietnam, or for some other facet of the Cold War, or some stranger conflict.
  • The international jet set, cosmopolitan and jaded, fly in to the new Danfort Airport in Kingsport from Monte Carlo and Milan, London and Beirut, Baharna and Celephais. The airport crawls with Transport Police, and its bizarre hypergeometic topography means that some would-be travellers have ended up lost in its endless shifting concourses for years, roaming naked and starving past departure gates that never open. Stephen Alzis summers in Great Arkham.
  • The raid on Miskatonic University resulted in the shooting of a half-dozen students by Transport Police. Protests and riots have wracked the city since then; there are regular clashes between Transport Police and students. Anarchist cells meet and plot in the attic of the old Witch House.
  • The Marsh gang import and distribute heroin shipped in the holds of the infamous Black Freighters.
  • The battle between the various cults and factions is no longer so covert. Fringe scientists from the Halsey Institute (formerly the clandestine Halsey Fraternity) openly advocate for experimentation in necromancy and revivification; pamphlets and graffiti on the sides of cyclopean towers advocate for the Witch Cult or the Silver Lodge. Mayor Upton was shot by a brain-washed assassin.
  • Armitage wasn’t a librarian or occult expert – he was a chemist, experimenting with drugs that altered human perceptions to enable them to see the true nature of reality. After the Raid, he went underground, moving from one hidden lab to another, sheltered by the Black Panthers and other groups, manufacturing more potent solvents to dissolve the great illusion and reveal the ultimate truth.

And what is that ultimate truth? The DELTA GREEN setting suggests some new options for the ultimate reality behind Cthulhu City…

  • The Revolution Will Be Dematerisalised: Curwen and his allies mastered hypergeometry and fractured reality in the 1750s. We’re still a colony – it’s simultaneously the 1960s and 1770s, the Transport Police are Redcoats, the revolution is always coming. DELTA GREEN’s a conspiracy founded by Captain Whipple and the “band of serious citizens” who raided Curwen’s house; the characters flicker back and forth between the Mythos-conjured hallucination of the 1960s and the ‘reality’ of the 1770s.
  • Interzone: Cthulhu City’s a surreal nightmare. Monsters on the streets, monsters under your skin. Gangs of shrieking cultists roam the night, pursued by agents of absurd alphabet-soup government departments. The city’s accessed by drugs, or by trauma, or by psychic reflexes triggered by the right poetry. It’s Al Amarj on the Miskatonic.
  • The Vorsht Letters: A DELTA GREEN Agent, Isaac Vorsht, vanished in 1962. His car was found abandoned on a back road near Salem; he hasn’t been seen since. Somehow, though, he’s still sending reports to the DELTA GREEN Steering Committee about his experiences and investigations in ‘Great Arkham’. Vorsht’s reports never seem to acknowledge the bizarre nature of the city, or describe how he got there. It’s as though he’s slipped into a parallel dimension – but if he has, how are his letters getting into the conventional US postal service? Oh – his most recent letter thanked DELTA GREEN for assigning the Agents to his operation. The Steering Committee don’t know what to make of it, but clearly the Agents are fated to investigate the case…
  • Project PLATO: PLATO’s mandate is to prepare a defensive posture for humanity in case of alien invasion. “Great Arkham” is a PLATO construct, a simulation designed to determine how the population might behave if the Mythos were to become more public. Are the Agents under hypnosis? Brainwashed with LSD and subliminal messaging? Critically injured and comatose Vietnam veterans in an electronically generated shared hallucination? Or did MOON DUST just salvage some Mi-Go technology? Are those cyclopean towers actually gigantic brain-cases…

 

Officially, the Delta Green setting never indicates that the Dreamlands underwent a radical transformation at the hands of Parisian surrealists in the 1920s and 30s.

However, in the privacy of their own Gaming Huts, GMs who ran a Dreamhounds of Paris series and want to connect it to their current Fall of Delta Green games might just indulge in a callback or two.

Careers of key surrealists continued for decades after the Trail of Cthulhu period. As I researched Dreamhounds, I saw how events might unfold after its era—an extended continuity I had no place for. Until now.

The period of surrealist involvement with the Dreamlands reaches a natural endpoint when most of its cast of historical characters flees France in advance of the Paris Occupation.

The book hints that their departure triggers a freezing over of the Dreamlands. The few surrealists who remain in Paris, like the heroic and doomed Robert Desnos, use it as an otherworldly transport and staging area for their Resistance activities.

The post-war period finds the surrealists swept aside by art world trends. In Paris, hardcore Stalinists, including recent convert Picasso, shut them out of the avant garde scene. The center of art world gravity shifts to New York, where abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock and color field painters including Mark Rothko take painting far from the psychological and pseudo-mystical imagery that gave Ernst, Dali, Tanguy and the gang the ability to reshape the Dreamlands.

The sleeping realm thaws out but remains static in reaction to the austerity of the artistic times. The surrealists’ bulb-headed automatons and melting clocks might remain. Or maybe the place reverted back to its old Symbolist, Dunsanian imagery, as seen in Lovecraft’s tales.

In the 60s and on into the 70s, simultaneous with Delta Green’s collision with the Age of Aquarius, a new generation of artists takes inspiration from the surrealists, and from pop culture images previously deemed unsuitable for museum consumption. To various degrees, the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Kiki Kogelnik draw on the influence of advertising and entertainment on the psyche. This allows them to enter the Dreamlands, achieve lucidity there, and begin to alter its environment, just as the surrealists did before them. When your Delta Green agents arrive there, they find its skies dripping with Campbell’s soup cans, weeping comic strip duotone, and cotton-candy colored skulls. Sixties rock mainstreams both surrealism and pop art. In the Dreamlands, this development could find ghouls bobbing their head to a Zappa polyrhythm and Hendrix riffs reverberating through Dyath-Leen.

Agents might look to these new oneironauts for information, or seek out the old school surrealists now enjoying rediscovery and a fame that eluded them during their peak creative years.

Next up in See Page XX, I’ll survey the Dreamhounds characters active in the 60s to see what they might be up to when Delta Green drops in on them for a consultation.


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.

See P. XX

a column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

A well-designed modular element for an RPG, whether we’re talking about a GMC, location, conspiracy, or occult tome, does more than extrapolate from an evocative premise. The text you write, explicitly or otherwise, indicates to the GM how it will be used in play.

Let’s look at roleplaying’s archetypal modular element, the one that has launched a thousand bestiaries, the creature. Or, if your core game prefers, monster, or foe, or alien life form.

In some cases the utility of a creature, or other modular element for that matter, goes without saying. That happens when the core activity of a game is so hard-wired to its modular elements that their function at the gaming table needs no further elaboration.

Take the venerable first mover and perennial market leader, Dungeons & Dragons. Its core activity is: fight monsters in fantastic environments.

(This greatly accounts for the enduring popularity of D&D and its stickiness as a concept. Not only does it have an exceptionally clear, easily enacted and highly repeatable core activity, it tells you this right in the brand name. Fantastic environment = Dungeon. Monsters = Dragon. It’s all right there.)

A well-wrought D&D creature design requires you to address its activity by showing the GM how it behaves in a fight, and how it interacts with its environment. In 5E, the stat block focuses on the former, and the descriptive text on the latter.

Different iterations of D&D have favored one over the other. The classic “Ecology of the X” magazine article format traditionally goes into way more extrapolative detail on a creature’s relationship to its environment than any DM can possibly put into play at the table. 4E, and its spiritual descendant 13th Age, focus much more on what the creature will do in a fight than in the broader world. A stat block might represent not a category of being, but a particular sort of orc or demon or pirate who attacks in a specific way, with its distinctive spell effect or weapon.

D&D casts such a shadow over trad RPG design that the very term “trad design” might mean “has a little D&D influence in it somewhere.”

It’s easy, then, to lose track of what you’re doing by applying D&D assumptions to the creation of creatures for other games. Making an adversary useful and easily playable in another rules set requires you to step back and consider the core activity you’re writing toward.

GUMSHOE games all have slightly different core activities, all of which can be expressed including the verb investigate.

  • Intrepid volunteers investigate the cosmic secrets of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • At the behest of a benevolent conspiracy, trained professionals investigate an occult conspiracy to tear apart the world.
  • Ordinary people investigate their way out of horrific situations.
  • Burned spies on the run investigate the vampire conspiracy intent on destroying them.
  • A freelance starship crew investigates interstellar mysteries.

To design a GUMSHOE creature requires not just a focus on the tropes and themes of the setting—an eldritch abomination, a psychically invasive modern horror, an alien life form—but the creature’s role in the investigative action.

GUMSHOE’s emphasis on structure helps you do this. If you look at the scenario format, you can see that a creature might be:

  1. central to the scenario’s key mystery
  2. a secondary obstacle adding challenge and suspense along the way

In case 1, the creature is either the source of the mystery, or adjacent to the source. The PCs have to interact with it in some way to bring the case to a close. That’s your:

  • salt vampire feeding on the crew of the mining outpost
  • resurrected sorcerer bumping off anyone who uncovers his secret
  • ghost taking vengeance on its killer’s descendants

Many instances of case 2 fall into the broader category GUMSHOE calls Antagonist Reactions. When the heroes start poking around, the primary villain sends some lesser creatures to harry them. Secondary creatures might also be keyed to specific investigative scenes, as guardians or obstacles the characters must overcome before gathering clues. Examples include:

  • the gargoyles the corrupt priest sends to trash your studio
  • the mutated dogs in the abandoned lab
  • the faceless homunculus hitman known only as Mrs. Blank

Your description of a GUMSHOE creature might suggest ways it can appear in either role. When writing up Mrs. Blank, you could indicate how she acts when the PCs are tracking her through her trail of victims, and then what she does when she shows up at the behest of the vamp conspiracy to treat the agents to some silencer music.

Accompanying any core activity is a game’s default identity, the description of a typical PC group: ordinary people, trained professionals, burned spies, starship crew, or whatever. Take that into account also as you design your creature. Show the GM how to get the characters into contact with your entity. In other words, your description needs at least one plot hook demonstrating its introduction into play.

Super easy, again, in D&D: unless you say otherwise, the creature occupies the fantastic environment, ready to defend itself when adventurers show up to fight it.

The more specialized the default identity, the more guidance GMs need getting your creature into their games.

Let’s say you’ve designed a ghost that materializes out of printer’s ink. What motivates the typical group for this game to confront it? The answer differs if the PCs are ordinary people (Fear Itself), burned spies (Night’s Black Agents) or security pros who respond to assignments from their handlers (The Esoterrorists, Fall of Delta Green.) The question in the first two examples is “Why do the PCs care?” In the last case, it’s “Why do their handlers care?”

Keep these essential questions in mind as you first envision your creature, and again as you revise your text. You’ll probably spot passages that explore a rabbit hole of iterative detail but don’t figure into a GM’s key concerns:

  1. What does it do in my scenario?
  2. What does that scenario look like?
  3. Why and how do the PCs encounter it?

The sonofabitch is in here somewhere. I saw him — I’m gonna get him.” – The French Connection

In 1968, in response to sinister influences that threatened to corrupt America from within and without, the Federal Government established a new agency – one that quickly acquired a reputation for ambitious operations overseas, for covert action, and for doing what had to be done, no matter the cost.

This new agency was the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the BNDD.

And within it – the forces of DELTA GREEN.

Trail of the White Powder

Hunt the Unnatural across the world! From the opium fields of Laos to the skies above the Pacific, from Turkish smuggling routes to the secret heroin labs of Marseilles, follow the trade in misery and fight the horrors along the way. Expose the criminal underworld – and discover that it’s inextricably linked with other secret realms.

Eight Thrilling Operations!

Eight linked operations for The Fall of DELTA GREEN, each one playable as a standalone investigation or as part of an epic hunt for an infamous enemy! That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons, even death may die…

JADE PHOENIX * ALONSO * HORUS HOURS

DE PROFUNDIS * SECOND LOOK

PURITAN * MISTRAL

NEPENTHE

The Borellus Connection is a campaign for Fall of Delta Green, using the heroin trade and the United States Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs as a narrative spine. The campaign runs from South-East Asia to the Middle East to Europe, as the Agents uncover the sinister machinations of a necromantic cult.

  • Operation JADE PHOENIX (North-Eastern Burma): The CIA wants the Chinese-backed Shan warlord Li Bao Lung assassinated, and the Agents are tasked to escort a Marine sniper, Sergeant Adolph Lepus, to Li’s headquarters in the Wa state of northeast Burma, with orders to eliminate Li and return with proof of Li’s (and therefore Peking’s involvement in the opium trade. DELTA GREEN has identified one of Li’s advisers, Ming Yuan, as a Kuen-Yuin sorcerer; Li’s compound is a target-rich environment. The team must travel into Burma, avoiding detection en route, and penetrate the defences around Li’s compound to ensure Lepus has a clear shot on both targets.
  • Operation ALONSO (Saigon, Vietnam): The NBDD assigns the Agents to surveil a drug summit at the Continental Palace hotel between Unione Corse bosses and emissaries from Marseille. While there, DELTA GREEN wants them to ascertain the status of the Cthulhu cult in the Rung Sat region south-east of the city.
  • Operation HORUS HOURS (Hong Kong to Los Angeles, by air): Clues uncovered during ALONSO point to the existence of a heroin smuggling route running from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. The Agents have to hastily follow the couriers on the trans-Pacific flight via numerous stops and layovers, watching for the critical moment of the handover.
  • Operation DE PROFUNDIS (Bozuktepe, Turkey): Using a BNDD investigation into opium smuggling as cover, DELTA GREEN sends the Agents to investigate the suicide and disappearance of archaeologist Charles Whiteman. He was excavating a ceremonial site at Bozuktepe before mysteriously killing himself; his body vanished en route back to England. What did he bring up from the depths before he died?
  • Operation SECOND LOOK (Beirut, Lebanon): The Agents are sent in to surveil another drug deal and gather evidence; this time, an unreliable DELTA GREEN informant, Francois Genoud, is in the mix, and the Agents are ordered to remind him where his loyalties lie – but there’s more at stake here than they know, as sinister powers make a second attempt to uncover secrets of the Mythos…
  • Operation PURITAN (Munich, Germany to Prague, Czechoslovakia): The Agents follow Unione Corse heroin shipments into Munich, but while there, another DELTA GREEN case officer tasks them to investigate unnatural contamination of the CIA’s QK-ACTIVE propaganda broadcasts into the Soviet Union. Who is broadcasting elements of the Necronomicon from a CIA-backed radio station? Finding the truth sends the Agents on a desperate race into Prague.
  • Operation MISTRAL (Marseille, France): During the May ’68 riots, the Agents are sent to Marseille to investigate gang conflicts – and possible Unnatural activity in the troubled city.

and the mysterious Operation NEPENTHE…

Sinister Alchemy

Discover the essential truths of life and death. Face sorcerers with strange powers, or plunge through realms beyond comprehension. Choose your allies carefully, and trust no-one – not even yourself.

 “I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you.”


Designed by Kenneth Hite, written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, the team that brought you the ZALOZHNIY QUARTET and the DRACULA DOSSIER are called up again to create a tale of sordid intrigue, cosmic horror, and desperate action against the Mythos!

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