Hacking The Between for a Delta Green style experience

So I’ve decided to go ahead with my idea to hack The Between to run a Delta Green style Cthulhu game, an idea I discussed on the Discord a little. Posting here will let me keep a more concise log of the design process. I’ve only begun faffing about with the rule set, so this will start of as some disjointed ideas that will (hopefully) coalesce over time into a playable game. The core goal is to explore what Delta Green would look like run with the Brindlewood Bay mystery mechanics, and given the same cinematic/character-focused treatment you get in The Between. So to start, some rough ideas about reskinning/hacking bits of The Between

Hargrave House - this will get split into a couple of things. First, there will be a home base of some kind that will expand (be explored) as the game progresses. There will also be safe houses, which will double for HH when the team is travelling. I wanted to keep the geographical reach of the game bigger than TB, but I’ll design it as a sliding scale so individual GMs can pick how big they want they game to be.

The Mastermind - will play a very similar role, and could be an individual or a Cult-like organization. These Masterminds probably will have supernatural or occult powers.

Character Occlusion - this part of the Between fits perfectly and is going to stay. The agents come to the cell as mysteries, holding back their histories and personal lives as bulwarks against the Mythos. As their characters get revealed, and as they use masks, they are using up what is termed Sanity in CoC games.

Abilities - play roughly the same roll. The names may change.

Janus Mask - as I mentioned above, this plus the Vulnerable move and Conditions are what will stand in for Sanity. This will take some actual hacking, obviously, but the moving parts are there. The actual mask mechanic won’t change (i.e. standard plus one per threat etc)

Day - Night cycle - this will also stay, although I may whack it about a little. Day is for recon and the like, while night is more straight OPs. SO the danger levels stay the same. I may toss in some bits from FitD to make this hum like I want it to in terms of position and effect. I would like to keep ‘the day’ as the basic play unit. If time needs to be elided, for travel say, it can happen outside that framework.

Playbooks - one of each per game, and will be designed to cover broad competencies. So have the tech guy, the face, the heavy, that sort of thing. The custom moves will be designed to help cover for the broad range of skill competencies those sorts of characters would have in a CoC game. Essentially, they’ll be good at what they’re supposed to be good at.

Unscenes - this is where I’m changing it up. Rather than exploring london, the unscenes will be how the players explore ‘their’ mythos. The probably won’t be connected to the threat at hand, but they will be generally connected to that particular game’s brand of weird. I want each game on this hack to build it’s own mythos, essentially. The unscenes and how the players answer the questions will be how that gets done. Echoes in the Night will work about the same way as it does in the Between, hopefully.

That’s the basics anyway. I’ll have to see how the pieces fall together. I’d to hear everyone’s ideas about how they’d port their favorite bits of Delta Green, or do things completely differently.

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Super cool! Are you interested in fear reaction types?

I hadn’t really thought about yet. My intial thought would be to handle them as conditions. What were you thinking?

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I have this saved list from somewhere (???), you could turn them into conditions of fear:

  • they can’t speak
  • they can’t understand speech
  • they can’t do anything requiring focus (e.g. casting spells, forming an escape plan)
  • their hands stop working and they drop what they’re holding
  • they can’t move
  • they can’t let go of something (a railing, someone’s hand)
  • they can’t look, or they can’t look away
  • they shut down completely and their perception is flooded by something trivial (e.g. the smell of their jacket)
  • they stop breathing out
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That’s a good list. I think the conditions will be a key element in making the hack ‘feel’ right, so I may expand them a little from what’s in the Between.

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Reading this panic behaviour list gives me the creeps. Good job !
Letting go (fluids) is common but less “photogenic”.
CW seems appropriate.

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I like this idea a lot, and have been thinking of trying something similar.

I’m curious about how you’d handle characters - separate playbooks, or something more like Brindlewood Bay with a basic character sheet with picklists and once defining move to distinguish them? I’m interested because I wonder what the Mask of the Past (or equivalent) would look like - are there fictional archetypes to build them from, the way there are for The Between?

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This is a question I’m thinking about a lot. My temptation right now is to have different playbooks for different ‘types’ of agent. My goal there was to have custom moves that cover the main skill set of that agent. That said, the Brindlewood model would do that just fine if it’s only one move, so it’s going to be a process of finding out how much I want or need the functionality of the characters to depend on bespoke playbooks.

Mask of the past is something I’m unsure about. I don’t know that there’s enough juice in the archetypes (as I’m thinking of them now) to make that really hum. It may end up just being an exposition of character background and motivation unconnected to archetype, but I would like it to be punchier than that, so we’ll see.

On a related note, some of my initial thoughts about equipment play in here. I don’t want crunchy extensive lists of equipment, nor do I want the acquisition of equipment to be a core part of game play. I’ll probably make what DG would term ‘common’ equipment auto-add, perhaps limited by one per dawn phase or some such. In the middle we have fairly common but illegal stuff like silencers, false papers, or some kinds of black hat hacking software, and then finally we have very rare or very illegal things like a copy of the Necronomicon or high end military equipment. For the latter two I’m looking at a normal 2d6 roll, with failure, clock ticks, and success as the basic ladder for 6-/7-9/10+. The size of the clocks and magnitude of consequences are what differentiate the two levels.

The reason this plays in here is I was also thinking of connecting the acquisition of certain sorts of gear (and/or services) to the playbooks, or at least some of the playbooks. Your mercenary type is more like to be able to get her hands on a rocket launcher while the face is more likely to be able to get false papers, that sort of thing. If I go that direction it mitigates for multiple playbooks, and the connections those bonuses represent are an opportunity to add colour and people to the agents background (tell us who got you those false papers and why they don’t like you much, etc). I’m also considering that kind of background of connection as part of the consequences - the worse the roll the more problematic the connection will be. So things like on a 6-, you fail to acquire the item and tell us who you contacted and what previous betrayal has made them angry enough to cause you problems down the road.

That sounds good, I’ll be interested to see what you come up with. Have you seen Alun Rees’ Against The Dark Conspiracy? It has a somewhat similar but distinct approach to equipment that might be useful to look at.

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I’m not familiar with it, but it’s on my list now. Thanks!

When I’ve run ‘agents’ in the past, I’ve found their skillsets must overlap by necessity. Mulder and Scully both fire guns, drive cars, and can interrogate. GURPS Black Ops was notable for this, where the agents are very competent at everything, and world-class at their specialities.

It might be interesting to divide up playbooks by role in the team (and genre conventions) rather than skills. So you’d have the Wildcard, the Stoic, the Greenhorn, the Cynic, the Cursed.

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I would indeed think the agents in this hack would be broadly competent in the way you describe. The notion of special moves was to index a specialty, not general training. So sure, anyone can hop on a laptop and do agent stuff, but the tech person (insert better playbook name here) has some room to succeed more often, in different ways, or to a greater degree than everyone else. The idea is not at all to try and pigeonhole a PC into one area. For general tasks, any agent will do, but for a really important tasks, you get the specialist. I like how that impacts spotlight movement.

You do bring up an excellent point though, agents in genre to often index particular character archetypes. The list you provided would also be a great way to differentiate characters. For example, using a Brindlewood model, with one base agent playbook, a player might get to choose and personality type and a specialty to differentiate their PC. That could work very well.

Ok. Moving on in the design process, following some Lumpley priciples. There will be one playbook, the agent, which essentially gives access to the basic moves and some basic equipment and permissions. You’re an agent and you can do agent things. It essentially defines baseline play. Those playbooks will be modified by (I think) at least two things, a character archetype (like Greenhorn etc above) and a specialty, like Hitter or Hacker, that gives access to improvements and modifiers to the basic moves, both in terms of success but perhaps more importantly in terms of results. So sure, any agent can do some light hacking, but the Hacker will get better results and be better suited to tacking really difficult targets. Those specialities will also serve as the basic permission for gear - so there’s base gear that everyone gets, and then you get access to some specific cool stuff because of your role. I may go so far as to also have the specialty influence what sort of contacts you have, at least to start.

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So, some thoughts about conflict and how that may (or may not) influence the design here. After some thinking and pondering I settled on two primary kinds of conflict that will drive the rest of my design choices. This is where, I think anyway, that the impetus to break away from a straight reskin of The Between is going to happen. We’ll see how true that ends up being I suppose. The two main avenues or sites or areas of conflict for the game are going to be, first, the probably losing battle the agents are fighting against the crushing horror of the Dark (read here all the standard Cthulhu bits) but here I’m specifically and completely going to avoid any content related to mental illness. It’ll be more personal than that. Second, there is the conflict between the characters when it comes to ways and means, or, to put that another way, what they’re willing to do to push back against the Dark. So lets get a little more granular about what those two things might look like.

This is ostensibly a Delta Green hack, so the idea of maintaining a fortress of safety in one’s mind, a protective fortress built around the things that really matter to the agent, is going to be key. But the Dark is insidious, it worms it’s way in through the smallest gaps to poison everything the agent holds dear. So, in The Between the characters don’t talk about their pasts and I’m going to take that, and all the mechanical bits that entails, and keep 'em all, and maybe even double down on it in occasionally. Some reskinning and repurposing, but it’ll all be there. The bits that matter most here are conditions, the Vulnerable move, and the masks. Taken all together, those do a good job subbing in for what is, to be honest, a pretty out-of-touch approach in CoC that indexes sanity. I’m going to replace sanity with something more like mental privacy. The reasons the agents put themselves in harm’s way, whether that’s prior experience, loved ones, or whatever. The Vulnerable move will slowly show those reasons to the other players, one onion layer at a time. Conditions and a likely additional mechanic for bonds, will be the threads that connect the agent to those things she holds dear, things that will be poisoned and made dust one at a time by the slow creep if the Dark into their mind. The mechanics here don’t really change that much, but they get wrapped in some very different verbiage, and added in are couple of light mechanical touches that will nudge things in the right direction. The Masks mechanic will get bent toward this teleology, where the Mask of the Past will represent those touchstones the agent wants to protect, while the Mask of the Future will index the approaching doom that is an almost inevitable fate when one deals with the Dark. So as the agent gets and removes conditions, and is forced to use masks to survive certain death, what they value, what they hold sacred will slowly be laid bare.

Moving past this struggle to keep sacred things sacred is the notion that the agents will not always be in agreement about how to go about dealing with the Dark. Here, things get a little more nebulous from a design perspective as there are more balls in the air and I’m less sure which balls will end up being caught. The mechanics in play here, at least to begin the discussion, are the Dawn questions and a variety of bits that factor into the playbook, which I I mentioned in a post above, is going to be a core book with at least two bolt on parts, one for character archetype, and one for the character’s speciality or MOS. A notion that sums up this collection of mechanical widgets is that of the Crooked versus the Straight. Based on Char Gen choices, a character ends up somewhere on that spectrum and, at least I think at this point, probably somewhat specifically one or the other. The Straight are the white knights, agents who will get their hands dirty up to a point, but have very hard lines about certain sorts of things like collateral damage and a range of criminal activities. Crooked characters will be more on the ends justify the means side of things, and generally far more willing to break laws and sacrifice potential innocents in the fight against the Dark. FVrom a mechanical standpoint, this will be reflected in the Dawn questions, the questions answered for XP and advancement. The plan there is to make a range of those questions incompatible between Crooked and Straight characters. The idea is not to invoke or precipitate a full blown PvP blood letting, but rather to provide just enough mechanical heft to get players on both sides of an argument, and for the idea of means and ends to something that not only gets talked about but that actually matters in a mechanical way. The ideal end result here is a team that doesn’t agree about ways and means, but has enough of a common goal for there to be regular give and take on how things get done. I think that provide the right level of frisson.

I don’t actually have my notes for this in front of me. but those are the highlights. Let me know what you think.

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Just a small note today. I’m hacking away at a push-for-advantage mechanic to use in here. It involves a dark die, like Cthulhu Dark. So you decide to push and roll 2 white d6s and a black d6, You count success as normal for advantage (highest 2 of the 3), but if the black is highest, which is a 1 in 4 chance, there will be additional badness of some kind. The existing mechanics for The Between don’t really suggest an obvious ‘badness’. Piling on another condition isn’t really a good option there IMO, since a condition was already on the table as a part of a roll involving risk. So the trick now is to figure out what widgets I need to add to perhaps make harm a little more granular than it currently is in The Between.

I agree coming up with another condition on the fly is risky. For cognitive lightness, you could name a specific harm category this badness goes to, always the same. Corruption, personal affairs, social pushback, etc. Then whether this jauge communicates with others depends on your thinking.

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Yeah, more design space than just 3 conditions then a mask might be in order. I might go with a harm or a corrption track along side conditions. Something… Im looking at a bunch of mechanical options, including the stress system from Alien.

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I’m trying to approach this, to start, from a playloop management perspective. I have the Between playloops already, since that’s what I’m hacking, so the decision is when and where to insert new mechanics and whether or not to remove something at the same time. I think, overall, that the result is going to be mostly the addition of mechanics. In the case of stress I’ve moved away from the dark die idea above toward a something like the FitD model.

So the conditions remain the same, but each character has a 5 or 7 pip stress track. a PC can check a box. take a stress, and get advantage on a role. Stress past the boxes checks a mask much like conditions past three. They could still end up with a condition from the role. So conditions end up as the GM facing mechanic while Stress is the player facing one, and the two need to be balanced.

To help with balance I think I’ll expand the Vulnerable move - it keeps it’s condition clearing feature as written, but will also function like Indulging Vice in FitD. Probably Dawn phase you state that indulged your vice last night and roll 2d6, with the roll determining how much stress is cleared (or something like that, the exact roll there isn’t a thing yet). Or, alternatively, just stress reduction have be a different choice of mechanical output for a vulnerable scene. But you can’t clear both a condition and stress in one go, so there’s a choice that matters there.

So the play loop of Conditions - Vulnerable - Mask Use is still in play, but some additional depth.

OK, you seem to have a handle on things here.
I am a bit weary of GM facing mechanics, but in fact I don’t see how conditions are GM facing. Oh, you mean : GM has to think of something to inflict the Condition. Right, that’s easily shared with the whole table.
As with any resource, refresh is important. The tactical choice between Stress and Condition is interesting but it is also very divergent. I mean, it doesn’t mean much for the character and yet it directs their actions… Something I find elegant is : clear the condition by rolling at disadvantage (“playing” the condition) once or twice. So you give this for that and the economy stays within bounds. It’s not the best idea, but in a certain playstyle it’s important that the player embrace the fictional details, while in others resource management is a mini game in itself, and I am not sure what you like best.

Yeah, I meant the GM inflicts the condition based on fictional positioning or whatever, as a consequence.

Refresh is key, and there’s a little more going on there than just the white room mechanics. The Between is by design a short run game, specifically designed to play through X threats and 1 Mastermind. Yeah, you can extend but then mostly you need to house rule stuff anyway. I want this hack to be a little more long term campaign-y, so how I set the refresh is critical. I definitely want to keep the Vulnerable move to clear conditions, I think that interacts very well with the 'no real names" aspect of Delta Green play. The character’s history emerges slowly over play. So on the RP side its fabulous.

One option is to also allow the V-Move to clear stress instead of a condition. That likely won’t be enough by itself. The Between connects Vice to the V-Move though, so the idea of indulging a vice took me right to BitD where that is a stress management tool. I need more mechanics there for sure.

In either case I want the fictional details to matter. I don’t dislike mini-games but that’s not what I’m after in this case (or for this hack really). I might not even call it stress, but regardless from a fictional standpoint you’re essentially exchanging position for effect.

Edit: Additionally, I’m also noodling around with the idea of using stress to resist conditions, also somewhat like BitD

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