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Delta Green: Handler's Guide

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5 out of 5 rating for Delta Green: Handler's Guide

It may seem like a non-sequitur, but this book is structurally the book that fans of D&D's Forgotten Realms have been asking Wizards of the Coast to produce for nearly five years now.

The Delta Green Handler's Guide is, in large part, just what it says on the tin: a guide for the Handler (or gamemaster) to run adventures and/or a campaign in the world of Delta Green, formerly a setting for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game and now its own stand-alone game system, though still heavily influenced by the BRP system that also powers Call of Cthulhu. The book is divided into four broad sections.

The first, The Past, takes up a bit over a third of the book, and is fundamentally a comprehensive timeline of the events involving Delta Green, from the 1927 raid on Innsmouth, Massachusetts that forms part of the conclusion of the H.P. Lovecraft story "Shadows Over Innsmouth" all the way to nearly the present day -- the final entry is dated 22-MAY-2017. Included with the timeline are textual descriptions of key events, organizations, and undertakings mentioned in the timeline, plus copious sidebars delving into more specific descriptions of things a Keeper would find useful: specific 'things' like tomes or artifacts the PCs might encounter (headed as Assets), or general notes on setting a Delta Green campaign in the era being covered in that part of the timeline (headed as In The Field). Also included are 'yellow cards' that contain information that only the Keeper would likely know (such as the truth behind the 'Greys' encountered by the U.S. government at the Roswell crash in 1947), and 'red cards' that advise the Keeper on how to run specific elements of a Delta Green campaign (such as how to portray the creatures behind the 'Greys'). If you're anything like me, this section of the book alone will have explosions going off inside your head, and you'll find enough material that, with appropriate inspiration, you could likely keep various iterations of a Delta Green campaign going, in different eras of play, for years. That all by itself would make it worth the price, in my estimation, but there's more.

Part Two, the Unnatural, covers all the squamous and gooey bits one would expect of a Lovecraftian setting: the Great Old Ones, the various extraterrestrial and terrestrial non-human species that share the Earth with humanity, the various tomes that detail this secret history and how damaging reading these tomes can be to your player characters. Lovecraftian magic is presented as 'hypergeometry', the alien science of the universe, and plenty of rituals are detailed for your perusal. There are also discussions on how to present your own rituals, tomes, and even Lovecraftian critters, so as to help make the game less predictable for those who otherwise could site the old CoC game stats for Deep Ones or Lloigor from memory. This section retains the 'yellow cards' from the previous section, providing further detail on portraying specific game elements in play, and includes 'OpInt' sidebars that explain the game-mechanical aspects of things like use of the Unnatural skill, skimming rather than studying tomes, and the like. And, of course, there are write-ups of Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and the like, if your players are the sort that simply won't be satisfied unless their sanity is flowing away from their characters like a rushing river.

Part Three, the Schism, details the (spoiler alert) two organizations both calling themselves Delta Green in the modern day: one a fully functioning (yet still illegal) government agency known to its members as 'the Program', the other, a conspiracy built of cells of agents hiding within other government agencies and referred to by the Program as 'the Outlaws'. The book details how the two groups got to where they are, what they know of each other, and how they interact, and your players' Agents can belong to either (or, if you're particularly ambitious or sadistic, both). This section provides the Keeper with the basic operating procedure of each organization -- how they get their Agents into operations, for example -- as well as a who's who of the movers-and-shakers within each group. The section also discusses peripheral groups that can aid or complicate matters for the Agents, depending on which group they belong to, such as March Technologies, M-EPIC, or Delta Green Friendlies. 'Yellow card' sidebars further detail things the Keeper should know more about, and 'In The Field' sidebars discuss how organizations interact with their Agents while the latter are trying to stave off Armageddon for one more day.

Finally, part Four, The Opera, discusses how a Keeper can set up an adventure or 'operation'. It's the shortest of the four sections, barely ten pages, but it still manages to provide information on creating a Delta Green campaign, the traditional structure of a Delta Green adventure (with an example provided that an enterprising Keeper can flesh out and use, if desired), and a discussion of what elements make a Delta Green campaign or adventure uniquely Delta Green as opposed to a pulp adventure or military action game.

The book wraps up with a full-fledged sample adventure, Operation FULMINATE, that helps put part Four into context and provides a specific example of Delta Green's themes in action. A few pages of generic human and animal NPCs and an intimidating-looking index round out the text.

Probably the most impressive feature of the book is that, in making a Delta Green for a new era of play, the designers didn't feel beholden to their existing creation. If you played the CoC Delta Green and have the softcover books from that era, you might have a favorite adversary group from that time: the Karotechia, or Tiger Transit, or the Fate. All of them are gone by 2016 -- the designers blow up their creation from 1996 as thoroughly as WotC did the Forgotten Realms with the Sundering. Yet Arc Dream provides the ability for the Keeper to run his players through the defeat of those organizations, via timeline and sidebar discussion of how those groups were defeated, and then, in true Lovecraftian fashion, shows how defeating those organizations doesn't slow the coming of the End Times by so much as a second.

And that, after all, is one of the key themes of Delta Green -- no matter how many times you save the world, you and the rest of humanity are still doomed, a meaningless extra on the great stage of the universe.

If you find that last sentence depressing, then this isn't the game for you. But if that sentence got your engines revving to put together a campaign and put some Agents through their paces, then you need to own this book.
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