Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Play Report: Operation HYACINTH

So I ran Delta Green for some friends off-line. It was my first time as Handler and their first time playing it, and it ended up all right. We all had fun.

But I'll be damned if I can write up an interesting play report out of it. I'll try, but much of it feels redundant. This ties into my bigger comments regarding Delta Green as a system, which will follow.

At the opera tonight we have:
  • Chris Redfield (Special Operator) 
  • Talia (Anthropologist)
  • Bo (Engineer)
  • Darren (Federal Agent)
  • Odin (Special Operator)
  • James (Federal Agent)

Operation HYACINTH was stitched together out of two of the 2018 shotgun scenarios (Rendezvous in Rama and Peak DHOLE), which worked pretty neatly together. The team had two main objectives:
  1. Take an inventory of the items left in the long-abandoned Camp House and call in a cleanup crew to secure them.
  2. Agent Portland, to vanished. Last contact was a message he left with his case officer: "I've got to stop O'Rourke." (This was the party's official cover)

[Aside] I am terribly proud of both my manila-folder conspiracy file referee screen and how the case officer summoned them all to an Italian restaurant for a fake birthday party. She even had a hat. [/Aside]

The Junkyard

A bit of a chat with the Fairfield sheriff's department revealed O'Rourke to be the old drunk who lives in the junkyard. The team apprehended and subdued him in the middle of a murder, but were unable to save the victim, one Michael Mendoza. O'Rourke refuses to talk and seems intent on killing himself before capture. Odin sleeper holds him into submission and ties him up, but not before realizing that the spiral-shaped eyes carved into his skin begin to blink and swivel towards him.

The group investigate the junkyard further. In it they find his mobile home (ransacked: they find a bunch of cassette tapes, a diary, and a copy of View from a Height that had been duct-taped shut. The back cover has a sticker reading "From the library of Jurgen Leitner") and two rows of powered refrigerators (containing the eyeless corpses of Agent Portland and eight other people). Some tire furrows leading out into the woods but are not followed.

Team calls in the case officer and explains the situation. Officer tells them to kill O'Rourke to keep him out of custody and keep looking for whatever is behind this. No further explanation given, and Odin doesn't need one to shoot him.

Team calls the sheriff to come clean up. Story is simple: serial killer, shot in self-defense. The agents do not identify agent Portland, to keep their cover story viable. Some failed bureaucracy checks mean that filling out the paperwork takes the remainder of the evening and it is well after dark when they take off to Camp House.

Camp House

In the car, Chris and Talia are able to skim the diary and pick out that there have been multiple authors, writing about some creature too fast to view.

Camp House is an tiny cabin on the lakeshore, surrounded by a chain-link fence. A bit of reconnaissance shows a space to climb over, though the height and the dark means that nearly everyone makes a clumsy, injurious attempt at getting over. They sneak in the house through the bedroom window and after a quick sweep, head down into the basement.

One wall of the basement has collapsed inward, torn open by an explosion. A bunker hallway extends into the darkness. An oppressive aura settles upon the team. In the distance they hear a thudding beat and whining hum, steadily growing louder as they explore.Within those rooms, the team happens upon...

Items Found Within the Bunker

  • VHS tape labeled "Do Not View. Chinese scribbled on it reads "The fat lady sings." (x)
  • Disk of red stone engraved with a spiral of unknown characters. (x)
  • Hardcover copy of The Hanged King's Tragedy. (x)
  • Framed painting: "Still Life of Piles of Meat".
  • An algae-choked fish tank containing a sea slug and a silver bell.
  • Clay tablets arrayed with series of dots in rough pentagons. (x)
  • Silver consider with an inset triangle of USB ports. (x)
  • Severed right hand with bright red skin. (x)
  • A blue pellet labeled "alzabo extract". (x)
  • A King James Bible with heavy fungal growth. (x)
  • A leather-bound book stamped with a sun disk, in calligraphy of an unknown language. (x)
  • A fuligin cloak and mask. (x)
  • Wooden crate; customs stamp states it contains human souls, received in London May 1892.
  • Cracked black mirror, engraved with the word "FLAGA". (x)
  • Series of mason jars containing cuttlefish in formaldehyde. 
  • A rifle with strange organic protuberances where the bullets would normally go.

They proceed to steal everything marked (x) because what the case officer doesn't know can't hurt her.

At the final room the team is greeted by a vision of a man frozen in the moment of suicide. Chris freaks out and blows the corpse away with his shotgun. When he and Darren go closer to investigate, both of them witness the man's final moments of life. A voice behind them says "I've already called them" and the trigger is pulled.

The final room has nothing but a burnt chair. The music is muffled here. As the team turns to leave, there is the soft but unmistakable noise of something falling from the ceiling behind them and moving about. The piping is deafening.

There is a swift battery of fire but the blobby pale betentacled thing plays on. Chris, Darren, and James hit their breaking point. Chris gets smashed by a flailing tentacle, but survives the blow. The team books it out of Camp House, dives into their cars, and tears out into the night. They call the case officer, explain everything but the stolen goods. Cleanup will handle it. Return to the Portland case.

Before they get back to the hotel, they can see the fire glowing above the trees at Camp House.

Chris Redfield Has a Crippling Sexual Attraction to the Morbidly Obese

The VHS was clearly labeled "Do Not View", but Chris had hit half of his original sanity by the end of the session. What he got was some grainy footage of a strip club interior and an 800 pound woman straight-up eating a dude and dancing her way out of there way faster than even normal-sized people are capable of.

So yeah. He's a bit fucked up now.

[Aside]This was Y'golonac in the original shotgun but I subbed in the Bloated Woman for absurdity's sake [/Aside]

Some thoughts on Delta Green as a whole:

There's a lot of stuff I enjoyed. Stocking a room full of crazy bullshit (how many sources can you name?) and dangling mission threads like so many fish-hooks. Character creation that was straightforward enough that I was able to get the players (who generally don't play RPGs unless I am running something) to make their own characters instead of premades. Players exploiting their Bonds to get illegal goods. Players embracing SAN loss as a reason to go outrageous. All good and great. This genre is my wheelhouse.

But the game still feels 15-20 years behind. It's good for what it is but if I think I'd much rather do something with Esoteric Enterprises purely on the grounds of the amount of material I can hack into it and the ease of making more. DG is fun, but gigantic statblocks and unreadably dense scenarios are the standard - and the shotgun scenarios only sometimes alleviate this. I still had to edit them down into one-page formats.

Not a fan of how the game lends itself to "Can I use [skill name]" either.

My quest continues.


  1. The weird item storage was my absolute favorite part of this, and if there is any mark against Delta Green it is that it's not super great at accumulating hoards of weird paranormal objects while also having characters who are not completely crazy.

  2. I’d be tempted to try the over the edge rules OR use Into the Odd infused with some Esoteric Enterprises. I’m not familiar enough with Mothership (just have read through quickly a while ago) but could you hack it to be more DG like? Or is there no real point to that?

    1. You could manage it with Mothership, but I think EE would still be easier because it is already the right flavor.

      Mothership would kill it as a replacement for Eclipse Phase though.

    2. Seconding Dan here, Mothership's great, but it really works better for spacey stuff. The only reason I'd advise it over EE would be if you wanted to get away from the class-based rpg world a little more, some crunchier gun rules, or something that deals with horror elements more.

  3. Our party has played Delta Green for Halloween the past two years. Just two, sometimes three session investigations.

    Agent Arthur, my character, has gotten through both without taking significant sanity damage. I think 10 points at most, from shooting a cultist who erupted into a tentacle monster.

    Much better then the party's resident cuckoo, who is in the low thirties at this point and actively drives whoever is near him crazier. Being marked by the Yellow King will do that.

    Being the CIA spook (hardened to mundane trauma) with high POW and SAN is great, especially when you know to avoid the obvious crazy.

    (our group consists of: Agent Arthur (me), Agent Abel, Agent Addams, Agent Allen, Agent Alex. Our first mission was to find some missing children. Our second was to deal with a self help group which was most definitely not a cult)

    1. Sounds like a grand old time!

    2. The tradition has continued since I made this post.

      Agent Arthur has continued to be largely immune to SAN damage, even as every other PC has circled the drain. Not quite sure how he's stuck the landing on every SAN save, from the South American fungus zombies, to the undead psychic children, to the mundane serial killer with a flamethrower, but he's still just sitting there at max SAN.

      I'm tempted to let the old fucker get kicked upstairs just because at this point he's mostly just a meme to rest of the party, just really down for child murder.

  4. I'd say "Can I use [skill name]" is more of a player problem, usually solved by responding with "can you rephrase that in a way that doesn't involve the name of a skill on your character sheet?" What about it felt 15-20 years out of date, out of curiosity? Especially in comparision to Esoteric Enterprises, which is great, but also based off of old D&D.

    But ultimately that's a bunch of bullshit because all that matters was that y'all had fun. Which is cool.

    1. From my experiences (which might be different from Dan's): long character generation, lots of fiddley bits, and short character life span.

    2. Character generation was short and easy, but there are fiddly bits that are legacies in. Like giving foreign languages a percentage (and making you specify them during chargen) instead of "you are fluent in languages, pick them as appropriate." Being reliant on dice for skills your character is a professional in and would be able to easily handle. Stuff like that.

  5. I can only read "From the library of Jurgen Leichtner" in the Archivist's voice.

  6. Hey I didn't mention this when you posted it, but I've got Dhole and Marco on my Delta Green discord. They were both really happy that someone ran their scenarios and had fun.

    If you like Gene Wolfe and Mothership, you should check out his short stories "Silhouette", "The Other Dead Man", "Eyebem" and "All the Hues of Hell", which can be found in the collection "Endangered Species"

    1. Oooh, that'll definitely go on the list.

      The amount of material the DG community puts out is super-inspiring, I do hope to get back to it.