In this eighth post I will discuss my trouble with the published Delta Green-scenarios (preceding posts can be found here). There have been published four Delta Green-books. There is the basic Delta Green-book (in two versions, one including d20-rules), Count Down, Eyes Only and Targets of Opportunity. The first three books contain three scenarios that each covers different aspects of the setting. Some are brief, others quite comprehensive. Furthermore a few scenarios have been published on websites and in The Unspeakable Oath (which is back, hurray!).
I like that scenarios are included in setting-books as they present good examples of how the designers envision how the setting is to be used (and how opponents should be statted). For instance the absence of scenarios for Whispering Vault (now accessible via RPG Drivethru) or the single scenario-book for Nephilim made them difficult to play as you had a setting and a bunch of rules, but no clear vision of how a scenario was to be designed. There is a clear advantage, that the DG-books contain scenarios, and I have enjoyed reading them. Playing them, however, is a different thing.
The Secret of Secrets
Note I will be discussing the scenarios from the DG-books, and there will be spoilers. If you are playing in a DG-campaign or some such, you should read no further in order to avoid reveals, that might spoil the fun for you.
One basic rule for me is, if an information only exists in the back story/game master’s notes, it does not exist, i.e. if part of the plot never becomes available to the players, it might as well not exist at all. For the players it makes no difference, whether or not the GM has note, that states the secret motivation of an NPC or some such, if that information never becomes available for the players – and telling the players afterwards does not count, neither does telling the players, that a certain fact is a accounted for, but remains outside the reach of the players. Several 90’s D&D-campaigns suffered heavily from this, for instance the Plane Scape-campaigns like The Modron March, Dead Gods or Faction War. Interspersed between the scenarios are brief stories, that explains to the GM, what is going on, but the players never learn, and thus they remain in the dark as to why exactly they are playing the scenarios. So even though things makes sense for GM, it still does not for the players, and the back story (or in between story) never becomes part of their experience.
Several Delta Green-scenarios suffer from this. In A Night on Owlshead Mountain, there is even an encounter with a Dark Young, where it is stated, that the players will never be able to learn the reason for the monster’s presence. In Convergence there are several minor details, that are present in the scenario in order for the internal structure to make sense – for instance the Aldermen-blob or people’s weird, mind-controlled behavior – but none of this is ever explained for the players. It just becomes weird or meaningless. Mostly just meaningless, because you have to rely on the GM to assure you, that whatever happens is not completely random.
Secrets outside the reach of the players are plenty in the DG-scenarios and often you read through several pages of back story explaining the life story of this and that NPC, and yet it is all outside the reach of the players. They have no chance of knowing it.
As a rule of thumb: If the information is not presented in fiction for the characters, it does not exist. – And I do accept the use of cross cutting, if it suits the medium; for instance the GM cuts to a sequence, where the plottings of the villains are revealed. This then becomes a part of the fiction experienced by the players, and thus a legitimate part of the game.
Secondly I have chosen a specific play style for this campaign, that does not work with your average CoC or DG-scenario. We want to focus on the personal drama, on the fall of the characters, as they confront the Mythos. They, not some cool NPC, are the main characters.
As I described elsewhere, this changed the way we play an investigation. simply put investigation is the players solving clues and riddles, and when you do that, you cannot roleplay your character. It is player, not the character solving the riddle. Also it os not the riddle solving part, we wanted to play. Instead it is the cost of confronting the Mythos and the unravelling of their everyday life – which is also the reason we play a lot of everyday-scenes, where there are no monsters.
It also means that I do not include back story-elements, that cannot be presented in the scenario, and more about that in the next post. The present DG-scenarios are heavy on back story, and often you can skip most of it, as the information is irrelevant, when you play.
Additionally there are a lot of small and uninteresting skill checks to be performed according the scenario-text, which mainly works as a distracting-tool – you address the players, ask them to roll some dice and then proceed with the story no matter the result, as the results only change some minor flavor detail. Skill checks in the DG-material sort of hides, how GM-controlled the events are. We do not use skills like that.
So I like the scenarios as they show how to use the setting, and they are rich on ideas, but I do not like playing them, as it is mainly a GM-experience, rather than a player-experience.
Next up: Mission-design
Thanks for this. I read the backstory as flavor, but the sessions have to be totally freeform, since my players typically break every module they’ve ever tried. Agree with most of your points.
You are welcome. No doubt the back story is good for flavour, but sometimes it becomes almost tedious – especially since I can’t really share it with the players (at least not as the scenarios are written).