Now comes the turn to the characters. I like it, when the individual characters how they own specific interests and missions in a campaign. This naturally works best, when the characters remain consistent, and you therefore need to keep the level of lethality down (how we keep the CoC less lethal & how you easily can threaten the characters with other consequences than death).
This is the sixth post in my series about running a DG-campaign, and I have earlier covered elements such as Developing the Cosmology and Reading Books, The Specialized House Rules and Investigation. Now we turn to look at the characters.
Characters in the Beginning
Each player develops their characters through play. They therefore begin with a minimal back story, and we develop it during the game. One of our most powerful tools to do this is the Relation-scenes, and the fact that we focus the game on the investigators, not the investigation.
Two things are created at the start of a new characters career: 1) Three persons, that are meaningful relations to the character, and 2) threats to the character’s continued career.
Death and insanity are two obvious threats against a character’s presence in a campaign. Once your out of hit points or sanity points, your character is out, and you have to create a new one. Yet – as I have argued before – there are many more things to threaten a character with than death, and several of these are often more fun, because should the character fail, he will live with the consequences, whereas a dead character, though suffering the consequences does not have to live with them. It makes for quite a difference.
Secondly the source of alternate threats cannot always be dealt as easily with – for instance most scenarios assume, that you strive to defeat, kill and banish those things, that threaten your physical or mental existence, but if the threat to your career comes from your character’s spouse, then new solutions must be found.
With the Threat-rule each character possesses three types of threats. Two are chosen by the player, and the third originates in the campaign, and is most likely created by the GM and it applies to all the characters.
Types of Threats
Even though we are working with three types of threats on the character sheet, there actually four types, and these I will cover here. Threats are also described in this post.
Type 1: Threats against Myself (Inner (Personal) Threat)
These threats are personal weaknesses of the characters, that can threaten their ability to remain an agent of Delta Green. This might be subjects such as alcoholism, depression, pride or something else all together. The player picks something, that he or she would like to be confronted with at any time during the campaign as the GM sees fit. If the player chooses to give in to the threat, the player risks the character being booted from DG resulting in the player rolling up a new character. The character may not be dead, but he is not a part of the campaign either.
Type 2: Threats against my Membership (Inner (Social) Threat)
These threats come from the characters surroundings, and must be dealt with at a social level. These are as such not necessarily negative, they just threaten the character’s ability to continue battling the Mythos. Family might be one, where the character will have to resign simply in order to care for his family, or career, where a promotion might make it impossible to go into the field again. Basically anything in your daily life, that make it impossible to continue battling the Mythos can be added here, and as with type one threats GM may activate the threat at any time during the campaign, and the threat can easily be foreshadowed, e.g. one character is a single dad with three teen daughters. I remind the player of his character’s daughters, when they call him up during a mission, because they need their father. These calls do not necessarily have to happen, when he is sneaking around or in some other stressed situation. Sometimes a call from them, when he is sitting alone in a motel room does it.
Type 3: Threats against The Team (External Threat)
This is the recurring enemy in the campaign. In the Hoarfrost Dragon-Campaign it is The Men in Black (or Project Blue Book-agents as they recently have become known by the players). They were introduced by me. After their first appearance, I told the players that these agents would be their recurring foe, and they wrote them down in the space for the type three enemy.
Type 4: Threat of the Day (External Threat)
Like each episode of X-files or Fringe contains a monster or mad scientist or something like it, so does each mission contain an enemy. Since this threat changes in each episode, there is no reason for the players to a have a box on their sheet to write the enemy down. So though the category exist, and it is useful for the GM to work with, it is not used by the players.
Flagging the Character
In forge-speak the first and the second threat are flags. Elements chosen by the player pointing to where, he wants his character to be challenged. The player cannot choose not to have a type 1 or type 2 threat. Instead the player chooses where the GM can screw with the character, and this also allows the player to have some elements of the character to remain undisturbed. If you do not want a certain of conflict, then do not pick it.
Since each mission is shaped as an episode, that typically lasts two sessions, we are playing each mission along a specific structure. There are certain mandatory scenes, such as the characters receiving their invitation to A Night at the Opera, then they play their Relation-scenes, and then they meet and are briefed on the particulars of the mission etc. This creates room for the players to state that their characters are caught up in their own projects. This usually comes after the mission is accomplished, and we are at the post-mission sequence – much like shows we a story arc makes some reveal in the last-minute of the show leaving the audience wondering.
Side-plots are small goals and quests, that arises in the intersection between missions and the agents’ private life (as seen through threats and relation-scenes), and quite interesting we really see some character development here, and often these sequences help us see the madness growing the character.
Generally they are purely improvised and consists of me “saying yes” and letting the players set the scenes and then going with it. One such sideplot was a character building a private Green Box in an old bomb shelter under his family’s countryside house. The most complex of these was build up during several missions, and were tied to the investigators threat type 1. Basically the character had become unhinged already during his pre-DG career suffering from some sort of PTSD, resulting in him believing that the ties to family and friends were the weakness of his fellow agents (rather than the source of his own callousness), and he wanted to “help” his fellow agents, so after a mission he and a large sniper rifle from a Green Box went missing – at this point he had run out of Decline Points, and had asked me, if I would delay the character’s demise, as he had an idea of his own. The player planned with another player a scene, where we see the insane agent lying hidden in a forest with the sniper rifle. In his target is the girl friend of the aforementioned single dad-character, and the goal is to kill her, so that agent will suffer a personal loss and thus become a more focused agent (yes, he was quite insane – though not through a loss of Sanity points, but as the consequence of combining Threat, Relation-scenes and events during the missions). As he is aiming at the woman, his fellow agent and confidante appears. She puts a gun next to his head, and asks him, what him what he intends. He explains his reasons, and refuses to listen to reasoning. She pulls the trigger, he dies.
A third agent has abandoned his faith, after his family abandoned him. Now he has begun to call out to the King in Yellow – and The King has begun to respond – and this came about on the initiative of the player. During one mission they confronted an “outbreak” of The King in Yellow, but managed to stop the play from infecting too many people. Afterwards the agent read the play out of curiosity – and on the sideline the player had played out a series of relation-scenes, where he broke his bonds with his family, as they had abandoned him – and these tow strands were combined into the character abandoning his faith and instead he began calling out to the King in Yellow, and as of the last mission the King has begun to respond …
Each player has his own agent, and they have created several relation-NPCs, that are either played by the other players during the Relation-scenes, or by me during the missions, and then there are kinds of NPCs, that I relegate to the players to play. It often happens that not all agents are present during a mission, and I hand those players NPC-roles to play. This can be fellow agents or friendlies, that assist with the missions. Sometimes the friendly may be the source of the mission, and then that friendly briefs the Delta Green-agents.
At other times the player is given NPCs, that are the cause of troubles – for instance during one mission the player was given two different NPCs (a protester and a journalist), and instructed to trouble the DG-agents representing the civilians, the agents needs to deal with, while keeping the mission secret. When the NPCs would appear was governed by the player. In another episode one player and a guest player was given a list of NPCs, who each had a piece of the mystery, and they were tasked to introduce each NPC and create a scene, where the DG-agents could obtain information. The two players prepared a series of scenes, though where and when they would trigger, I as the GM did not know, so the DG-agents would investigate the town, and at various times they would encounter the NPCs, and the two players would play out a scene.
In a third episode the DG-agents went on two different missions, and the players were instructed, that we would shift to their agents, after the other agents had met and dealt with civilians. In other words the players could at any time introduce an NPC, whom the other agents would have to deal with (an inquisitive child, angry neighbors etc.), and then we would shift to their DG-agents, until the other players introduced an NPC. The game shifted back and forth with no trouble, but some quite interesting and entertaining scenes.
Multiple characters also have the advantage that I can add some extra lethality without killing a PC every time, and it allows the players to take a break from their own characters and try to play out some different roles.
Next up I will discuss how we play.