In this post I will go into detail with the relation-scenes in my Delta Green-campaign. Relation-scenes are tied to the mechanic of Humanity- and Decline-points. In order to earn Humanity-points, you need to play relation-scenes. I covered Humanity and Decline in this post.
The campaign is episodic in it’s structure. Each episode lasts 1-3 sessions. Normally each episode begins with presenting the mission (an evening at the opera), then the relation-scenes are played and the characters hook up, receives their briefing and begins investigating. We do from time to time make exceptions to this model, such as ending the episode with the relation-scenes or playing an additional relation-scene.
At present we have played ten episodes. Season one consisted of the Prologue and six episodes, and we are now in season two. As for planning I as the GM have a larger mystery, that are revealed bit by bit in some episodes, a myth-arc, and other episodes are stand alone-episodes. This is much like shows like X-files and Fringe are structured. Though I have list of ideas and plots, that I will turn into episodes, none of these are planned yet. They are developed from episode to episode to match the situation in the group – but also in order to allow the players to buy missions, where they decide, where they want to go investigating. They suggest themes and elements and I turn it into an episode – so far we have had two of these.
Not all characters are necessarily present in an episode. Some first arrives later during the episode, and in other cases they do not appear at all. Playing NPCs is very common for our playstyle.
I will describe the relation-scenes, that were played in the first three episodes. For each scene there is a brief comment on how it was set, and between each episode, I will comment on our way of playing the scenes.
Episode 1: The Man in the House
In this episode we meet Cell S – so all the agents cover names begin with an S.
- Agent Simon – A busy CIA-agent. We play a scene, where he call his ex-wife and tells her that some work has come up (the secret DG-mission to be exact) and that he does not have the time for their son this weekend, but he’ll make it up to him later.
(The player briefly described the scene, he wanted to play: him calling his ex-wife and telling her that he can’t have their child this weekend. Another player volunteers to play the wife)
- Agent Sharp – Another CIA-agent and war veteran. He has created quite the career with wife, well-educated children etc., but most of it is facade. He visits an old friend and mentor at the John Hopkins University. They reminisce on the past.
(Again the player describes the situation and another volunteers to play the mentor)
- Agent Sherlock – An FBI-agent, who is somewhat estranged from her family dominated by her strict grandmother. She lives alone in her appartment, but greets her neighbor from time to time. The scene is where she is packing her car to go on the DG-mission. Her neighbor sees her packing and asks cordial questions. He happens to know some people in the area, she is visiting on her holiday, and he volunteers the contacts.
(The player is not certain, what scene she wants to play. After a brief brainstorming we end up with this dear little scene, where we get to see her loneliness and her dorky but kind neighbor, whose friendly behavior becomes his trademark, as he appears in later in the campaign)
Switching between the agent’s private names in the relation scenes and their cover names on the missions strengthens the emphasis that this is a unnatural situation distanced from their normal every day.
Episode 2: Black Angels at the Christmas Fair
- Agent Simon: The weekend is over, and agent Simon is returning his autistic son to his ex-wife. The son has accidentally packed his Christmas present for his father, and he unpacks everything in order to find it, which forces the parents to spend some time together.
(The player presents the scene and sets up the general events of the scene – that the son needs to unpack everything to find the present and give it to the father. Two players are appointed to play the ex-wife and the son)
- Agent Sharp: His daughter is practising her violin for the Christmas concert at the school. Since his been called to a mission, he tells her, that he can not attend the concert, but he promises, that he sends his brother in his place. She is furious, since she wanted her father to be there as he promised her.
(Again the scene is set up by the player, another plays the daughter and we see what happens)
- Agent Sherlock: She receives a call for from her dominating grandmother inviting her to stay with the family for christmas. The grandmother ignores any protests from agent Sherlock with her sweet demeanor using guilt and embarrasing questions as to why Sherlock still is not married and have no children like her cousins.
- Agent Trevor from cell T (the fourth player in the group) – a park ranger and single dad with three teen-daughters. He lost his wife to a hit and run-driver a few years ago, and recently the has begun a fling with Hannah, the owner of the local diner. The scene is plays out at the church, where he and Hannah along with the local congregation is preparing a Christmas-event. He receives a mysterious call, and afterwards he tells Hannah, that is Them, and They need his help. He has to go. As he leaves the calls his elderly neighbor, Miss Morris, and asks her to look after the children for the weekend, as work requires him to be elsewhere.
(The player sets the scene, asks for a player to play Hannah, and then describes how he receives a call during the scene. We play the scene as described above and at the end he plays a brief call to his neighbor, but no one plays her, as it is not needed. Agent Trevor is the only character, that has told any civilians about DG and even then he is still very secretive).
In praxis an episode begins with a brief introduction from me. Usually if there going to be any specific rule of the day or some such. Then I ask the players, if anyone wants to play a relation-scene. Sometimes the players asks for ideas from us all.
The player sets the scene. Describes the where and how, and what it is, he wants to emphasize in the scene. The player asks the others, as to who wants to play what. Often the same player handles the same NPCs. This mainly done from an unspoken tradition and it is not a requirement. I as the GM never participates in the scenes. I watch and take notes – mostly in order to add the scenes to my AP-reports.
Episode 3: Burned Bones
- Agent Sherlock: She visits her aunt at the mental institution. It is revealed, that the aunt is the first and the only other in the family, who has broken with the strict grandmother, and she is paying for it. We pick up clues, that not only the aunt is suffering psychically from this, but likewise is agent Sherlock.
- Agent Sharp: Last episode he was wounded on the mission and this time an old colleague and war-buddy visits agent Sharp. A strain is put on their friendship as agent Sharp will not talk about the episode that got him wounded, thus breaking an unspoken rule between them.
- Agent Trevor: We are the diner, where we see agent Trevor confide in Hannah about the strain the missions put on him, how important they are, and yet that he cannot tell her, what happened. As we zoom out, we see agent Simon spying on them on a distant hill.
(This scene was based on events from last episode, where agent SImon revealed, that he was somewhat unhinged, and the scene was set by both players involved)
- Agent Simon sits lonely in his apartment. He is cataloguing a lot of photos taken in secret of the other agents and hiding them in a secret compartment in his closet.
(Agent Simon is a very unsympathetic person and the player is envisioning his demise within a few eposides, and that he may need to be eliminated by his fellow agents. This is publicly shared with the rest of us. The scene is purely narrated by the player).
When we play the scene, there are no mechanical conflicts. We don’t roll any dice. Instead everything is improvised, and sometimes the players playing NPC’s pushes the main character into verbal conflicts and harsh words. Having a secret life as a DG-agent is not an easy task, but the importance of the missions must at times outweigh the responsibility towards family and friends. Some of the NPCs have become quite well developed and acts as recurring characters in the relation-scenes.
The story about agent Simon grew as a B-plot, that were played out between episodes. He was later killed by agent Sherlock, before he had the chance to kill Hannah in order to hurt agent Trevor. Agent Simon had the belief, that in order to be a well-functioning agent, you needed to fell pain, and by killing Hannah agent Trevor would feel the necessary loss. These scenes were entirely orchestrated by the players with my support.
I am intrigued and excited (and jealous, of course) to hear that this is a regular feature of your games. While roleplay this focused on character can make a significant number of players feel uncomfortable, I think it is this sort of involvement with an aspect of a character that can make a game transcendent.
What I mean is that when a player connects with the character in some fashion (getting deeply into a pivotal combat scene, carefully plotting out a detailed and important use of primary skills for a daring plan, or speculating off-handedly and in-character on when they will be able to see a certain attractive person again) the game becomes a lot more than a way to pass time, but something about which the group talks fondly, decades later.
I tried what you suggest here, to the extent that you describe it, really only once. While I encourage and participate in a lot of roleplay in my games, I can’t say that this degree of it is a regular feature.
Long ago – when Werewolf: the Apocalypse had just been released, I set up a linked Chronicle where players had roles on each side of a struggle and from time to time we would shift between them for long periods of play. One group in that Chronicle focused mainly on running Garou, and had a secondary cast of mortals characters; a family.
One evening, I set the scene as being the evening the family received word that a primary relative had been found dead in the woods, and sat back to let them find the voices of their characters’ grief. They took it and ran with it for hours, speculating as to causes, offering memories, and generally exploring what it meant to be that family, in that place and time.
The usual investigative approach was then planned out and begun. I was really pleased with the immersion in roles that the group undertook, and felt that the investigative procedures aspect of the evening were all the better for it.
The evening ended, with a quick switch to the Garou characters watching the house from a distance, and one of their number being handed a note by me which stated, “You are not sure, but you think you did it under last night’s full moon.”
I was very curious where that would go, but suspected it would just be hidden by the player.
It wasn’t – He confessed his concern to the Pack, and that began another long session of pure roleplay as the evening closer.
I was amazed, but also concerned that we could not sustain this sort of approach for long. Sadly, we did not get to find out as life interfered with that group before the story got much farther. I have not tried this sort of thing since then, but perhaps it is time that I did.
Glad you like it 🙂
Your own example sounds like a great story
I think roleplaying-parts like the relation-scenes can be implemented into campaigns. I have something like these scenes in one of my other campaigns – the wizard-campaign – where we play quiet scenes around preparing for exams.
A part of the reason that we can play the relation-scenes are partially because it is part of the contract around our game. When we began the campaign I clearly stated to the players, I wanted these kinds of scenes, and I added a structural support for these scenes. The scenes are clearly marked, and within the scene the player has full ownership, and without the players consent, I as the GM does not add anything to them. As I understand from reading various blogs players do not always consider their characters safe – NPC-families become reliabilities, that the GM seeks to exploit – and secondly I have changed the reward mechanic: In many games and in many house rules the reward is based upon the player ‘doing good roleplaying’ and if the playing satisfies the GM, the group or whomever, there is a reward. This kind of rewarding means, that you need to fulfill somebody else’s expectations of proper roleplaying – and that I don’t like, neither does most people I play with. So instead the reward comes from choosing to play the scene, rather than the quality of the roleplaying. My experience is here, that this makes people more comfortable, since it allows them to focus on what they want to play, rather than attempting to it right according to ill defined premises. A third element is that the ownership of the scene allows the player to explore the character’s backstory or present situation.
Of course a part of this may also be tied to the Danish convention-style of roleplaying, where freeform and structured freeform is more or less the norm, and most of my players are experienced convention-players.
To sum up
– Player-ownership of the scene
– Backstory/character concept is safe
– No need to fulfill others’ expectations of proper roleplaying
– Room to explore the character independently or in lieu of the main campaign