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Campaign Kickoff: Impossible Landscapes

Delta Green brings horror and modern conflict to game tables with plenty of adventure support. And now it has an entire connected campaign called Impossible Landscapes (PDF only). A GM can kick off an entire campaign with a pursuit of the terrors of Carcosa and the King in Yellow.

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Thanks to Shane Ivey for sending me this book to review. In other RPG news, I have interviewed Shane Ivey and reviewed: Kali Ghati and Lover in the Ice, Night at the Opera, the Agent’s Handbook, and the Handler’s Guide. This campaign kickoff does not try to review the book, but instead offers ideas on how to use the adventures to create an entire campaign. I heartily endorse the adventures, the use of subtle and mind-bending horror, and the suggestion to intersperse the normal with all the crazy shenanigans. My review is five mucilaginous tentacles out of five. I also have to point out the amazing layout.

Delta Green may have the finest layout and art that I have seen in standard RPG books. You look at the cover and weird writing from the back wraps around to the end papers which in many books are blank. Everything is scribbled on with notes from previous agents including the index, but nothing you have to know and are cleared for is ineligible. The RPG book really becomes a game artifact. And this property is not unique to Impossible Landscapes. It is a standard in the line of Delta Green itself.

Impossible Landscapes kicks off in the 90s, the time when Delta Green the RPG debuted in the real world and the focus of their latest kickstarter to bring it shambling back into the modern world. The next of the four interconnected adventures doesn’t start until 2015. In between that time would be a great place to set a campaign, especially one carrying on in the 90s. While the kickstarter will update many existing adventures to the current ruleset, a GM wanting help writing their own modules have many PDFs to choose from that are set in the 90s that would be easy enough to update now.

If the PCs die along they way, they can pass along what they learned without knowing the King in Yellow will return. I think running an entire campaign between this first adventure and then wrapping everything up in the last three would be amazing as well as a real surprise to the players.

This type of campaign set up would support the overall them of surreal horror. Surreal horror will be the eldritch energy that infuses your campaign and brings it to shambling life.

According to Impossible Landscapes, surreal horror skirts the edges of belief. Agents are like planets in an elliptical orbit around the surreal elements that are like the sun. Sometimes they get close, sometimes they are farther away. Horror is seeing a dead friend shamble back to life. Surreal horror is when that dead friend sits down to lunch and everyone else acts as if everything is fine.

The agents are trying to destroy knowledge of the King in Yellow and kill anyone who knows too much about him. The surreal horror lies in that their very actions could actually lead to them saving and inspiring the playwright who will eventually write the blasphemous play (due to the time distortions involved). The agents' work through the decades may actually bring the King in Yellow to their world in their past and lead to the very struggle they are currently waging.

Even worse, they may not escape and be trapped in the play and actually see the universe as it is. I’m not going to record that revelation here, but if it happens to an agent, they will learn the true extent of the power and influence of the King in Yellow and understand that even if their fellow agents got away this time, they can never really escape the King.

There is plenty more advice for GMs on how to successfully run Delta Green in general and these adventures in particular. This advice covers everything from pacing, how to frighten the players, and what types of scenes to run and when.

Impossible Landscapes has travel to another world, time travel, reality warping, corruption, unnatural rituals, and 72 demons to add to the mix. It spans decades, it warps and changes the agents it doesn’t kill or consume, and just reading it left me pondering the consequences and the sheer audacity and scope of the campaign. I really believe this one is worth getting just to read if you think you will never get to play it. If you are going to play it, don’t read a word of it. You’ll be meeting the King in Yellow soon enough.
 
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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody



I love the setting and basic concepts. And the material I’ve seen is all high quality stuff. And this book is no exception. It’s interesting and evocative and well produced.

I’ve only played a little Delta Green, but I’d like to again. I picked up Landscapes to see if I’d want to run it. I have to admit that so far, I’ve struggled. The opening scenario is interesting….but I feel like I need a cop show pegboard with red string just to keep track of the NPCs, especially those who are already gone.

It’s a lot. And given the nature of the campaign, it feels like it all matters….like if I forget who Castaigne is during play and I wing it, I’m gonna have a lot of work untangling that.

It’s such a hefty book and so intricate at times that I’m intimidated by it.
 

I love the setting and basic concepts. And the material I’ve seen is all high quality stuff. And this book is no exception. It’s interesting and evocative and well produced.

I’ve only played a little Delta Green, but I’d like to again. I picked up Landscapes to see if I’d want to run it. I have to admit that so far, I’ve struggled. The opening scenario is interesting….but I feel like I need a cop show pegboard with red string just to keep track of the NPCs, especially those who are already gone.

It’s a lot. And given the nature of the campaign, it feels like it all matters….like if I forget who Castaigne is during play and I wing it, I’m gonna have a lot of work untangling that.

It’s such a hefty book and so intricate at times that I’m intimidated by it.

That makes sense. You bring up good points. I do know there is quite a bit of GM support in there because of the reasons you mention but advice alone doesn't run a campaign.

If I ran it I wouldn't tell the players I was using the campaign. So they won't know if what happens is what is in the book or not. I think I just wouldn't worry about the big picture so much. Focus on just the very next session with one investigation and scenes of life at home unraveling. Just like any other Delta Green campaign. I would take notes of what happened while they are fresh in my mind.

It might even happen the other events the PCs are experiencing lead naturally back to the King in Yellow. Or maybe not.

I guess it would be great to have the book handy and be ready. But I would also be okay with a campaign that turns out to be an investigation of the week instead. For me I feel like I'd be taking the pressure off myself that way. But keeping my options wide open in case things do come together.

In my mind, any campaign is really about the players and what they have their characters do and how they have their characters act. I don't think of myself as GMing Impossible Landscapes for example but instead I think of myself as the Handler for the Agents run by Debbie, Phil, and Marty. For me, that helps me keep my priorities straight.

Not sure those thoughts would help anyone else though! Just thinking out loud what would work best for me personally. YMMV.
 

That makes sense. You bring up good points. I do know there is quite a bit of GM support in there because of the reasons you mention but advice alone doesn't run a campaign.

If I ran it I wouldn't tell the players I was using the campaign. So they won't know if what happens is what is in the book or not. I think I just wouldn't worry about the big picture so much. Focus on just the very next session with one investigation and scenes of life at home unraveling. Just like any other Delta Green campaign. I would take notes of what happened while they are fresh in my mind.

It might even happen the other events the PCs are experiencing lead naturally back to the King in Yellow. Or maybe not.

I guess it would be great to have the book handy and be ready. But I would also be okay with a campaign that turns out to be an investigation of the week instead. For me I feel like I'd be taking the pressure off myself that way. But keeping my options wide open in case things do come together.

In my mind, any campaign is really about the players and what they have their characters do and how they have their characters act. I don't think of myself as GMing Impossible Landscapes for example but instead I think of myself as the Handler for the Agents run by Debbie, Phil, and Marty. For me, that helps me keep my priorities straight.

Not sure those thoughts would help anyone else though! Just thinking out loud what would work best for me personally. YMMV.

Thanks for the response. I’ll go back to it I’m sure. It just seems so hyper-detailed and my approach these days is generally one of minimal prep and low GM overhead, so I worry it’s a poor match. I like my work as a GM to be at the table more than in between sessions.

But it’s definitely an interesting campaign and there is a lot to it. I’m sure I could get it to work in a way that suits my GMing approach these days.

For more prep-oriented GMs, I think this book is high-quality, and could lead to a memorable campaign.
 

Thanks for the response. I’ll go back to it I’m sure. It just seems so hyper-detailed and my approach these days is generally one of minimal prep and low GM overhead, so I worry it’s a poor match. I like my work as a GM to be at the table more than in between sessions.

But it’s definitely an interesting campaign and there is a lot to it. I’m sure I could get it to work in a way that suits my GMing approach these days.

For more prep-oriented GMs, I think this book is high-quality, and could lead to a memorable campaign.

Well, this conversation gave me an idea for a Campaign Kickoff for low-prep GMs. So thanks!
 

Liminal Syzygy

Community Supporter
I think this campaign is a masterpiece. I didn't have an active Delta Green game going at the time but it wormed it's way into my mind so much that I knew I had to run it.

If you are going to play it, don’t read a word of it. You’ll be meeting the King in Yellow soon enough.

I do wish this review was a bit less spoilerific for potential players, though. Particularly highlighting so clearly that it's about confronting the King in Yellow.

If the PCs die along they way, they can pass along what they learned without knowing the King in Yellow will return. I think running an entire campaign between this first adventure and then wrapping everything up in the last three would be amazing as well as a real surprise to the players.

I agree it would be awesome. It's kind of hard to explain the 20 year gap with no missions and the accompanying character skill ups and sanity deterioration. But my main concern is exactly character death as well as the sanity deterioration that would make their path in part 2 to 4 shorter and less meaningful. Plus, with the tight operational security of Delta Green, filling new agents in on the naughty word you've seen go down in the past is generally frowned upon, so I don't think it's a given that new agents will get the download on what the first gen agents saw in the Macalister Building, unless they build a bond with them. If it's not the exact agents getting the invite to part two of the campaign it won't resonate in the same way, and it won't be as clear why they were "selected". So I'm thinking I'll lean more on the fact that A-Cell suspects the agents were tainted by the first mission, and move them to "friendly" status to keep a close eye on them. (If they don't botch the first mission spectacularly, then that would would give A-cell an even more clear reason.)
 


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