Welcome to the seventh post about running a Delta Green-campaign. I have covered most aspects of my campaign in the preceding six posts, and covered some subjects in greater detail in separate posts (such as my three posts about the players playing multiple characters and NPCs). We have been playing for about 1½ year by now, and the campaign is divided up into seasons and episodes in the same manner as tv-shows.
First season is covered in this post, and second season here. We are playing the third season right now – and in this post, I will try to describe how we play. Something that is not as easy as presenting a summary of a session or a description of the rules.
As is evident with the old school-movement, there are several ways to play, and various rule systems supports the different playstyles in their own manner. For instance this campaign is not a sandbox-game, neither is it a game, that focuses on the players’ abilities to solve puzzles – so no handouts (but I have discussed investigation in-depth here).
- No maps, no handouts, no puzzles
- Personal drama, lots of in-character play between the players dealing with their characters’ personal lives
- Few die rolls
- Splitting up the party and playing NPCs
- Listening to the others play
This is How We Play
An important element is, that we are charting the decline of the characters as they confront the mythos. It is therefore important, that we get to see them from their human side. We spend time playing their everyday civilian life in between the missions (as described in detail here), and the lethality of the missions is fairly low. Large, lethal critters are not often used, as they will in one go, accomplish what we are building up slowly, the death or madness of the agents.
Furthermore we often split up the agents, and the action continuously shifts between the players, and they listen in on each others’ play. We play without secrets. The players also do not always play their own characters. For some sessions they play one or more NPCs solely, and in other sessions they shift between their own characters and their NPC-roles.
When to Roll Dice
First, I hardly roll any dice at all. At most I roll a few attack rolls, but otherwise all die rolls are done by the players. In a sense the system assumes, that opponents succeed their rolls, and that it all boils down to, whether the characters succeed or not.
Secondly rolling dice are tied to the economy of the system. There more often the players roll, the more often they may fail, and when they fail, they begin to spend resources on flipflops introducing their characteristics or spend their rerolls, they earn by risk failing their rolls.
Third dice are rolled, when I ask for them. I ask for die rolls, when I sense, that the players want to have their characters accomplish a certain goal. It is not much different from the “say yes or roll dice”-approach, but it does mean, that there are no preplanned die rolls as is common in many published modules (e.g. “a succesful fast talk og credit rating grants the investigators access to the office”), instead when I sense the players wants the character to accomplish something, I ask for a roll of some sort. Usually not a specific skill, but instead I invite the player to suggest, which skill is relevant, and then I make the final decision.
The interpretation of the skill checks is usually done from a positive angle, so success is described as success, but also so that failures are described as successes, albeit incomplete, or that is foiled by the opponent.
Failures push the situation
Failed rolls usually opens up for new situation, that requires a new roll. While chasing a foe, a failed jump between to buildings, results in the character hanging from the edge, and a another failed roll can lead to the character begin falling, but rather that the character takes so long to climb back up, so that the enemy gets away. For example a failed research roll results in slowed or delayed research, not in failing to get the clue.
The consequence of playing in this manner is, that the flow of events are shaped by the dice creating a series of events, where we have exactly no idea of what will happen, until the know the outcome.
In regular roleplaying characters fail a lot, look at the skill values of an average CoC-investigator, and if the skills are not used to describe areas of expertise, they become values it is hard to roll a successfully for often (for a further discussion of this, I recommend Robin Laws discussion on Gumshoe and it success-economy here, and even more relevant the forthcoming Spending, Hoarding, and GUMSHOE-article by Laws).
Failure is sometimes just failure here, but more often it introduces either a complexity (delays the results of the research), or it sets up an either/or-situation, where neither GM nor players know, what will happen, until the dice hit the table. Instead of many checks we have a few checks, and we strive to set them up as either/or-checks: “When stealing evidence from the crime-scene, will you be noticed?”. In both cases the character gets the evidence, but it becomes a matter of the complication, and often the situation is formulated, so the player knows what is at risk. It is not “if you attempt to steal the evidence, then roll a stealth-check”, nor is it “as you steal the evidence, make a stealth-check”.
Setting them up as clear “either/or” and as “complications” failures cease to block play. A failed Lock Smith-check does not mean, that the door remains unlocked, but rather that the attempt is alerts the guards or that it leaves markings, that will be noticed the next morning.
It is not much different from a series skill checks except damage is being dealt. The system is rather fluid, and constructed over a series of skill checks.
Let me begin with an example:
- GM: “As you approach the guard, he draws his gun, and starts to aim it at you. What do you do?”
- Player #1: “I step forward as I try to knock him out”
- GM: “Okay, roll your attack skill”
- Player #1 rolls, “succes”. GM: How much damage?”, #1 “13”
- GM: “Good, you jump forward, knocks him back, and you see him stagger backwards, falling over. He is still armed, and trying to aim his gun at you. What now?”
- #1: “I jump at him, trying to knock his gun from him.”
- GM: “Good, roll your attack skill.”
- #1: “I failed.”
- GM: “Can you flipflop it, or do you want to spend a reroll?”
- #1: “No, I am out of rerolls, and even if I flipflop, it is a failure.”
- GM” Okay, as you jump forward, he fires”, rolls dice, “30 dmg, the shot hits you hard, pain and adrenaline rushes through your body, as you land heavily on him, you knock his gun from him and it slides along the floor.” Turns to the other player, “as you see your friend knock the guard back, but the guard draws and fires, heavily wounding your friend, before his gun is knocked away. What do you do?”
As you can see from the example, there are no initiative, no clear turn structure, as combat is instead of connected skill checks, where the players takes turn acting and sometimes the a player takes several turns in a row. The are not any specific maneuvers, no disarm-action for instance, no multiple attacks, instead the player chooses an action, dice are rolled, and I describe what happens, setting up a new situation based on the outcome of the roll and the chosen action. This keeps pushing the action.
Pushing the scene is a central feature, and it removes a classic element of many RPGS’s, where the players’ actions are reduced to a series of almost mindless attack-rolls, as they attempt to wither away their opponents’ hit points.
And this is how we use the system, which is a hybrid of CoC and Unknown Armies mixed with a lot of house rules tailored to support the themes of the campaign.
Next up: My trouble with published DG-scenarios.