Looking Forward To Games In The New Year, Part Two
  • Looking Forward To Games In The New Year, Part Two

    Last week I started talking about the new and upcoming games that I was looking forward to in this New Year. I'm not as much of a fan of open-ended campaigning as some, so that gives me the chance to sample more games. This comes in handy when your day job is writing about role-playing games. This week I am going to follow up that article to talk about some horror games and supplements that I am looking forward to getting to try out in the upcoming year.

    Horror has always been one of my favorite genres for role-playing. It ranks up there with super-heroes and cyberpunk as my favorites. I have always been more of a fan of horror fiction than fantasy, ever since sneaking away my mother's copy of The Exorcist at entirely too young of an age. From there I discovered Lovecraft, and moved on to authors such as Caitlin Kiernan, Nancy Collins, Poppy Brite and Kathe Koja. Koja's novel Skin inspired a particularly "fun" run of Delta Green gaming, back in the 90s after I read it for the first time.

    This is probably a good segue into talking about the Handler's Guide for the Delta Green role-playing game. I am so psyched for the standalone Delta Green game to be completed, and out the door in print. Delta Green is a game about truth, lies and understanding, but at a meta level it is a worked example of how you make the Cthulhu Mythos work in a role-playing game in a world where Cthulhu plushies are a thing.

    A lot of the ground of the Handler's Guide goes into covering the world of Delta Green, and there is a lot of world to cover. What would become the Delta Green organization within this world has its origins in the 1928 raid on the New England city of Innsmouth by various military and law-enforcement forces of the United States Government. This origin point springs out of the 1936 story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by H.P. Lovecraft, and singles the point at which the United States government starts to learn of the existence of the unnatural world of the Mythos, and its creatures. The Delta Green Role-Playing Game deftly weaves the threads of the fictional worlds created by Lovecraft and his circle of friends and fellow writers, with the equally fictional threads of paranoid conspiracy theory and realpolitik. It is this blending of the fantastic with horrors real and imaginary that has made the Delta Green setting so popular over the decades since it was first revealed in the pages of The Unspeakable Oath.

    While Delta Green does rely heavily upon the worlds of Intelligence and the military, the nice thing about the game is that it doesn't have to devolve into the gunfondling and military porn that a lot of contemporarily set Lovecraftian games fall into. Regardless of the amount, or power, of guns possessed by characters, their use is ultimately little more than a temporary distraction against the horrors of the game's world. Where the original Delta Green supplements for Call of Cthulhu were rooted in the psyche of their time, and drew heavily upon the UFO lore of the time, the current Delta Green Role-Playing Game moves away from that and towards a more contemporary idea of the erosion of reality by the unnatural forces of the Mythos.

    The old material and focus are not removed from the story, but they are de-emphasized in favor of different elements of the Mythos. The Hastur Mythos, and the influence of The King In Yellow play a more important part in the story of Delta Green now, as they did in the later original supplements. The Deep Ones have an elevated role in things as well, since they are the factor that caused the creation of Delta Green within the setting of the game.

    I won't lie. The Delta Green Role-Playing Game is something that I have been waiting for for a long time. The information in the original Call of Cthulhu supplements, while still useful run into a wall when trying to use them in the contemporary world. That wall would be 9/11. One that one day, the world changed, and more importantly for this setting the world of Intelligence and espionage changed with it. So much of how the "organization" of Delta Green worked wouldn't be as effective in the newer world order. I think that the creators of Delta Green did a good job of pivoting with this new world.

    I am not really a huge fan of Lovecraftian role-playing in other historical eras, and Delta Green has always been the best supported and realized take on Lovecraftian horror as a modern day setting. There is a lot of room in the setting that I look forward to exploring in games in the future. As I do, I will be talking more about the game here.

    I have had the PDF of Harlem Unbound by Darker Hues Studio for a while, Chris Spivey (the book's creator) and I were supposed to meet up at some point during last year's Gen Con but our schedules were never able to sync up. Harlem Unbound is set in the Harlem of 1920s New York City, the period of jazz, poetry and the arts known as the Harlem Renaissance, when musicians like Duke Ellington and poets like Langston Hughes would rise to prominence.

    Since most of us have never been to Harlem, or New York City, in the 1920s, there is a good deal of space given over to describing the locale and the important locations within it. The history of Harlem is traced through the early days of the City, and time is spent discussing the Jewish and Italian communities within Harlem, as well as the African American ones. Harlem of the 1920s gets to the roots of Lovecraft's fiction, with its exploration of people who are outside of the dominant cultures of the time, and Harlem Unbound describes a world that should be both incredibly familiar and at the same time unknown to gamers who are familiar with this classic era of Lovecraftian gaming.

    The rules in Harlem Unbound are presented for both the current edition of the Chaosium game Call of Cthulhu and for Pelgrane Press' Gumshoe System rules as expressed in their Trail of Cthulhu game. There are some new sample supernatural creatures (including a jazz-themed avatar of Azathoth and some creatures derived from Caribbean and Jewish mysticism that would be appropriate to the area).
    One thing that this brings up for me is that I think that I would have liked to have seen more of an exploration of jazz, both as a music and a culture, in the book, because of the impact that it had on the Harlem of the book's time period. There may be a number of gamers who aren't well-versed in either, and I think that it would help with the book's flavor to fill in some of these gaps for people. Plus, I love jazz music. So much of our American musical culture is built upon the foundations of it and blues music.

    The book is rounded out with a number of adventures to help pull gaming groups into the setting. There is also some very evocative art that helps to create a tone for the book, and the setting.

    Why I am looking forward to playing in this setting, despite having earlier in this very column talked about not being a huge fan of historical Lovecraftian settings is a complicated answer to what is probably a much more complicated question than it would seem. Books like Harlem Unbound are why I think that diversity among creators is such an important thing for tabletop role-playing games. I know that even though I am a GM with a considerable amount of experience with Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian role-playing games, and even though I spent a few class hours during my college Literature studies reading the writings of writers like Zora Neale Hurston or Countee Cullen, or listening to Louis Armstrong I would never produce background material with the necessary depth or emotional resonance that Spivey and the diverse hands of the adventure writers would be capable of doing.

    For me, the exploration of places that are unusual to me, and that can sometimes challenge my assumptions of the world around me, is an important part of role-playing. Books like Harlem Unbound allow me to enter into worlds that are familiar to those who are creating them, but can be strange to me. I think that an important part of any art form is that it challenges those who engage with it. Harlem Unbound isn't just a role-playing game, it is a challenge to my sense of the familiar and I welcome that. I don't know if I could do the setting justice as a GM myself, but I would love to experience it as a player with a GM that could do that. That is a pleasure that I hope to have in this new year.

    It looks like this exploration of the games that I want to explore in the new year is going to stretch into at least another week because I have spent a lot of words on Harlem Unbound and the Delta Green Handler's Guide and still haven't covered all the games that are rolling out that I want to play in the upcoming year. Next week I will talk some more about horror gaming, and we'll see what else I get in my thoughts about the games that I would like to explore in the new year.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. redrick's Avatar
      redrick -
      Harlem Unbound looks incredible. When reading Masks Nyarlathotep, my first thought, after the opening Harlem episode, was, "this needs some updating and I need to learn more about the Harlem Renaissance." (Enter one more book on my stack of unread nonfiction books.) Thrilled to see that Chris Spivey has done the work to put together an in depth look at the world of Lovecraftian roleplaying from the POV of black american investigators.
    1. Darin Kerr's Avatar
      Darin Kerr -
      Harlem Unbound is a really wonderful book. I hope for more works like this across the gaming spectrum.
    1. rosejzehner's Avatar
      rosejzehner -
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    1. rosejzehner's Avatar
      rosejzehner -
      I must say all the gaming list mentioned above is really nice one. In my list I would like to add Destiny 2, player unknown battlegrounds , Fifa 18, grand theft auto 5, Football manager, Saga Games and many more.. I am a big Fan of playing shooter games like Destiny 2 ever since my Friend Suggested me to Buy Destiny 2 game from Instant-gaming official site.
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