This post is inspired by this post about the rewards of risk and the comments at Casting Shadows. It is about some the house rules in my Delta Green-campaign: The Hoarfrost Dragon.
I wanted a different campaign with the Delta Green-setting for Call of Cthulhu. A campaign, where neither combat with the monsters, nor the investigative proces is the main stay. Instead the goal was a campaign, where we got to see the human side of the characters, and how their humanity were at risk if not lost in the encounter with the Cthulhu Mythos. So I combined a lot of different rules to get there. The core-engine is a hybrid of Unknown Armies and Call of Cthulhu supported with a series of rules or inspirations from other games, among others Covert Generation and Conspiracy of Shadows. With a large catalog of games available it can sometimes be a bit difficult to pin down the exact source of inspiration, but for this post it is the Doom Points from Conspiracy of Shadows.
The campaign is episodic in it’s structure much like a tv-show. Each episode lasts on average two sessions, though we have a few three sessions episode and two one-session episodes.
Each episode begins with us playing relationship-scenes. I ask the players, who wants to do a scene, and usually everybody wants to. Afterwards the characters receive an invitation to A Night at the Opera, which is slang for clandestine Delta Green-mission. The characters hook up, they receive their mission-briefing and off they go.
There are usually a few months between each mission, so all wounds are automatically healed between missions, and the characters can spend time in therapy or studying their Mythos-books. This is usually handled just before or just after we begin the mission.
The game is supported by specialized mechanics: Agent points (to buy connections, equipment and missions), Humanity points (to stay humane), Decline points (to stay alive), Traits (to increase chances of survival and to earn fate-points, that later can be traded for more survival). In this post I will cover Decline and Humanity.
Decline and Humanity
Each character begins the game with two Decline-points, and can buy more points by spending Humanity points. Humanity points are earned by playing scenes with your character’s relations.
Each character begins the game with two Decline-points and can buy more during the game. These extra points can be bought at any time, the player can afford them.
Each player picks a theme for his character’s decline. Whenever a decline-point is spend, or when the GM sets a scene attempting to eliminate the character, both players and GM should attempt to incorporate the theme.
Decline-points can be spend to save the character from certain death at the hands of anything mythos-related. How the character survives is negotiated between the GM and the players – it may be done by retro-active actions, by finding the character unconscious at the scene, or later at a hospital etc. There no adverse effects to the character, i.e. loss of sanity points or some such.
Running out of Decline-points
When a character runs out of decline-points, the GM may freely set scenes, where he attempts to eliminate the character. These may come sudden and anti-climatic. It can a random drunk driver or a stray bullet, a stroke or the unwelcome attention of the Cthulhu Mythos. In a sense the possession of Decline points delays the demise of the character.
New points can be bought at any time. It is however the price, that is the problem. Each Decline-point costs 2 Humanity Points and requires the loss of a relation.
Loosing a relation means that the character looses someone, he or she cares about. The loss can be the death of the relation, but mostly it comes from the alienation of the relation between the character and his relation. As time goes by, the character will loose more and more relations. There are as such no limit to the amount of lost relations in the game, as it is the act of loosing the relation that is important.
Each character begins with no Humanity-points, but can earn points during the game by playing relationship-scenes. Humanity-points can be spend to regain sanity-points, to re-activate traits (just as you can re-activate spend traits in Mouse Guard) and to buy Decline-points.
Each character begins the game with three relations and more can be added during the game. Relations are people, who matter to the character, family, friends, colleagues etc. More can freely be added as the campaign progresses. It is not the number of relations that matter.
Each player can play at most a relation-scene each session or once pr. mission. The scene is typically played before each mission. The player controls the scene, and it is played without any die rolls. The player sets the scene, describes the situation and either narrates the scene alone or appoints the other players to play the relations, e.g. the scene is a family dinner-scene, where the family-members are played by the other players, or the scene is between the character and her friendly neighbor inviting her by to a cup of coffee. If a player can’t come up with a scene, the rest of us come up with suggestions.
After the scene is played out, the player earns a humanity point. The purpose of the scene is to the see the everyday-life of the character and ground them in a normal situation. This situation is the contrast to their missions, their adventures into the abnormal.
One consequence of this is, that the characters have become the most well-rounded characters I have ever seen in a Cthulhu-campaign. We spend time with them, when they are not investigating, and through those scenes, we get to know them. Knowing that they are doomed, as investigators in the Cthulhu-mythos setting are, lends an air of tragedy to the campaign.
I am very curious about what sort of things occur in one of these ‘relation-scenes,’ and also in how you initially presented the concept to your players~
Lots of food for thought here!
Luckily I have kept notes from each session and written down, what scenes we played, so I can describe the scenes in detail.
In order to do that properly, I will present them in a separate post.
The campaign was presented in three stages. We were playing Transhunan Space using the rules From Shadow of Yesterday, when I suggested the players, that once we were through exploring the setting, I wanted to play Delta Green. Then I had a series of posts at my Danish blog, where I discussed how investigation were handled in RPGs and what challenges there were in playing shows like X-files/Fringe/Supernatural as roleplaying games, because the audience often knows more than the heroes, and even if an episode remains a mystery to our heroes, we as audience still gains closure. In other words there needed to be some adaption, when moving the stories from one media to another as to how they were told. Then followed a few posts presenting the rules for the campaign.
When we met to play DG, we talked about how the game was structured, and why I had added the different elements. From there on we began playing, and once in a while we discuss a few aspects of the campaign: Can the characters call off a mission (yes they can), can characters retire (yes), and how does Delta Green work (which is actually quite complicated, since the books are quite vague about it and also very open. From listening to podcasts I’ve noticed, that we begin playing at a different point in the fiction, than those in the podcasts, with them skipping the those parts, that deal with how Delta Green works).
That was how the campaign was presented in broad terms. I’ll gladly expand on any of the subjects, if there is anything you want to know more about.
The relation-scenes will be covered in a separate post.
Thanks for the reply~ (I was on vacation and just read it now).
I definitely agree that running investigations, mysteries, and plot lines which rely on the intellect of the characters can present a lot of challenges. I like fashioning mysteries, but as you note above, there are often cases where the players know much more than their characters, and you end up walking a very fine line between closure and frustration if that disparity is mishandled.
The agent points that you mentioned in another post seem like a very good way to bridge that gap, while also getting rid of the ongoing problem of decent ‘contacts’ generation at character generation. Good call~
I am very much looking forward to your forthcoming post on the relation-scenes.
You’re welcome. Sorry for the late reply, but I have been busy with attending Viking-Con and then SPIEL in Essen, Germany.
I have covered relation-scenes in this post: https://mortengreis.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/delta-green-relation-scenes-getting-to-know-your-investigator/
I hope it answers, what you were looking for, otherwise feel free to ask for further details.