Monday, October 13, 2008


Secret Services: Delta Green

Here's another "secret service" that I only know by reputation. Created by Adam Scott Glancy, Dennis Detwiller, and John Tynes, Delta Green is a game seting for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game.

The last time I devoted serious amounts of time to role-playing games was in high school, over twenty years ago, and I think I may have played Call of Cthulhu once or twice in there. And while I kept a toe in the rpg waters in the years that followed, occasionally picking up the manuals for new games (though never really finding the time to play them), I don't think I ever came across Delta Green. If I'm not misremembering, the first time I saw the name was in Charles Stross's afterword to The Atrocity Archive (about which more in a while), in which he says that he hadn't heard of it until he was done writing his novel, either. Stross says that having discovered it, the game came "dangerous close to making [him] pick up the dice again."

From what I've read about Delta Green, I'm with Stross on this one.

Here's a brief introduction from the game's official site:

Delta Green is a game setting for Call of Cthulhu, the popular horror roleplaying game published by Chaosium, Inc. Call of Cthulhu is a game about mystery, discovery, and horror, in which the characters are more or less ordinary men and women who slowly unravel terrible mysteries about the utterly alien powers at work in the universe.

Based on the writings of Jazz-era author H.P. Lovecraft and a number of authors who wrote stories based on his "Cthulhu Mythos," Call of Cthulhu is nominally set in the 1920s, and its scenarios have always been written with a small group of investigators, largely without organization or resources, in mind.

Delta Green brings the Cthulhu Mythos, and the men and women who encounter it, squarely into the modern day. Delta Green postulates a secret group dedicated to investigating alien and supernatural horrors, using the resources of the U.S. government to do so. Originally a unit of the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency), Delta Green is now officially disbanded, its activities patently illegal; but its members carry on no matter what the cost, desperately facing the horrors that threaten mankind.

Delta Green was created by Pagan Publishing, an independent, small-press publisher under license from Chaosium to produce supplements for Call of Cthulhu. Originally developed in a 1992 issue of Pagan Publishing's acclaimed gaming magazine The Unspeakable Oath, Delta Green was published as a massive, award-winning sourcebook in 1997, to be followed by an award-winning sequel, Delta Green: Countdown, in 1999, and several smaller supplemental chapbooks and books of Delta Green fiction.

And here's an "in-story" explanation of the outfit.

So, I'm a psycho-burnout fed with a death wish. Just the kinda guy Delta Green goes trawling for. Just like you're going to be, unless you get killed first. Why would a covert government agency want a guy like me? Because only a psycho-burnout with a death wish would take a Delta Green assignment.

Did I say "covert government agency?" Is Delta Green a covert government agency? Well, yes . . . sort of.

Or, at least, once upon a time.

Once upon a time there was a group of men who could see clearly and who were willing to take responsibility to do what needed doing. They were called Delta Green. However, while doing what needed to get done, they did it wrong. Hence, Delta Green no longer exists. Officially anyways.

We still see and we still do what needs to get done, only today, if we get caught doing what needs to get done, we'll be doing time. Because no one in their right mind is ever going to believe what needs to get done.

"What needs to get done?" For a start, books need to be burned, artifacts smashed into powder, men need to be silenced, and, ultimately, the future must never be allowed to become the present.

I can't vouch for the quality of the game-play and such, not having tried it out myself, but from everything I've read it certainly sounds intriguing.


To be honest the occult investigators working for a government agency (or quasi government) is heavily prevalent in ERPGs, and this maybe (like a good chunk of fanatsy) one of those areas that rpgs have heavily influenced writers. But I'm not sure.

Another one that stands out that you haven't mentioned is Conspiracy X.

And others would have their favorities. But frankly I'm had pressed to think of a modern occult game that doesn't have some version of the secret government agency, eiother as an option for the players or foes.
Never heard of Delta Green? I could've sworn Matt was all crazy about it on the CWSB forums back in the day.

Speaking of which, weren't you always a little down on Lovecraftian mythos/writing? I remember saying that I got a bit of a Cthulhu vibe from Set The Seas On Fire, which you didn't think was the biggest compliment...
JereGenest, I'd considered Conspiracy X, but from what I read about the game they seemed to deal exclusively with extraterrestrial threats. Do they handle supernatural matters, as well?

But yeah, I'm definitely under educated when it comes to the last twenty years worth of gaming. I've got a few other RPG mentions coming up in the list of secret service, notably a couple from d20 Modern, but if you know of any others I'm missing, please do let me know!
Hey, Radek!

It would probably have been Finn talking about Delta Green, if anyone. I remember him mentioning Call of Cthulhu from time to time (he worked for a time for Chessex as well, that did some Lovecraftian-related stuff if I recall correctly).

As for Lovecraft, I've always been a fan of the Mythos, no doubt about it. I have been known to make disparaging comments about the excesses of Lovecraft's writing style, though, which might be what you're recalling. But while I might have been dismissive of his style on occasion, I've always respected the ideas behind the stories.
Delta Green is a great setting. Though I think the best "occult world" game was Unknown Armies. Pure art with dice.
Thanks for the tip, Tim! I'll check it out.
And Delta Green has a lot of stuff written and whomped up by my RevolutionSF co-conspirator Shane Ivey.
Well, how about that?
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