The Delta Green-campaign takes place in the present, and since we skip from episode to episode without commenting on the spend between the episodes, we are always in the present, and in the present cell phones are common. Very common, so that when I last fall played a brief Trail of Cthulhu Bookhounds of London-campaign playing in a society without omnipresent phones was notable. The players could not easily split up, but had to plan ahead where and when they met.
Splitting up the party
In our campaign the players continuously split up their party and they usually go investigating in pairs – and in episode seven Dirty Jobs they actually went on two different missions at the same time without ever meeting (described here) – and they continuously brief each other and each other updated on their latest discoveries. This makes for fast and efficient investigation, and they can solve problems twice as fast as Mulder and Scully.
Cell phones are in other words great for the game, and with cell phones help is always just a call away.
For some this is interpreted as the loss of isolation, and without isolation there is no horror. This however is not how it works. Cell phones are great tool for the opposite, as once you are used to always being in contact, then the loss of the phone becomes unnerving adding to horror of being isolated.
There are many easy ways to temporarily rid the agents of phones, but they should be used sparingly, as less is more, and if the phones malfunction every session it just gets boring.
When a villain shoots at an agent, he may accidentally hit the phone instead of the character, when he agent stumbles, the phone may fall from the pocket, and when tackled by cultists, the phone may be damaged.
I use the following approach, if I need a phone (or some other piece of equipment) ruined as part of the events:
When a player fails a skill check, I choose a consequence – this may be that the action fails, or that the action succeeds, but something else goes wrong. The player fails a dodge-check, but instead of the character getting wounded, the opponent destroys the phone, or when the player fails a Library Use check, he is still succesful, but displaces his phone during the search. For people familiar with Mouse Guard, this approach is easy to recognize.
Now that is the easy thing to do. But cell phones can be so much more fun, when they betray, their owners so let’s have a look at that.
Episode Four: The Subterraneans
The agents explore ghoul tunnels under Manhattan. As they enter the tunnels, they end up under so many tons of dirt and concrete, that no signal is available for their phones. They are isolated, as they crawl through the tunnels.
Episode Five: The Red Tears of the Black Madonna
The agents travel to South America (and they don’t worry about roaming) on a black op to stop drug barons. They encounter a fertility cult worshipping what on the surface seems to be a syncretic product of Catholicism and local non-Christian beliefs, but it is also a cult worshipping an aspect of Shub-Niggurath. The aspect can at any time manifest through phone calls, so when the agents begin to receive phone call from the demonic entity using the voice of their loved ones, it begins to unnerve them. It gets worse, as when they handle the phone to somebody else, it is not the demonic entity, but the relative on the phone, and the phone calls them, even when it is turned off.
Episode Eight: So Big and Green the Forrest is
A Lloigor king is breaking free from its ancients bonds, and it is beginning to mentally control all children in the region etc. Another effect is that the Lloigor can be felt through the phone, as an intense pulse beat, that pulses through the phone user establishing a contact between the phone user and the Lloigor. Furthermore it disturbs the signal making it difficult to hear each other on the phone. The agents stopped using the phones, during the mission, as they felt the was too dangerous, not wanting to see what happened, if they stayed on the phone.
Episode Ten: The House on the Heath
The agents confront a Serpent Man Sorcerer, and he masters an alien technology, that is able to override mechanical and technological devices, so suddenly the agents are without phones, computers and firearms confronting the monster. Quite the unpleasant situation for them.
The Cthulhu Mythos
The mythos exists in many variations, so whenever it is needed, the agents can be derived of their phones or their phones becomes the tool of their enemy. When Shub-Niggurath manifested through their phones, it more or less resulted in the agents called off the mission and went back home.