Delta Green: Countdown
Delta Green: Countdown is a monster of a book if there ever was one. It is easily the largest role playing supplement I've ever had the joy to read - in fact, it's larger than most basic rule books. And all of it is Cthuloid goodness!
Even though I don't own a single Call of Cthulhu book or supplement (aside from Delta Green and Delta Green: Countdown, of course), I've always been intrigued by the Mythos and I got hooked on the Delta Green subline when friend showed it to me. Ever since I devoured that first tome from Pagan Publishing, I've been wanting more - and finding myself worming Delta Green into damn near every game I read or run. When I heard about the new book, Delta Green: Countdown, I couldn't wait to see what was turned out.
What I got was simply golden. More than 400 packed and daunting pages, the book is far too big to review in as much detail as I would normally do, and it is almost impossible to give a clear idea of both how much is here and how good it is. While the price tag ($39.95) seems steep at first, the density of information and the sheer number of pages makes this one of the best values in the gaming industry today. For twice as much as more supplements, you get at least four times as much information. I'm certainly not complaining.
The book follows the same high production values as its predecessor and has the same flair for eye-pleasing layout that John Tynes has also brought to his other line of Unknown Armies. The writing is clear, concise and easy to navigate. Despite its size, the book was fun to read, even in what are normally "dry stretches" in most books, like character write-ups and adventures. The art, while there is certainly not a lot of it, is both well-done and well placed. Generally better than the fare in Delta Green, there wasn't a single picture I didn't like.
The book itself is divided into two broad categories, the setting material and the Appendices (the latter actually take up more than half the book, amusingly enough). There are seven new Mythos organizations as well as a new resource and a new take on an older idea, that of the unspeakable Hastur. The Appendices cover a wide range of topics, from psychic powers to real world intelligence agencies. Appendix A has a sampling of various psychic powers, in case the Keeper doesn't want to limit them to NPCs. I found this to be the bottom of the book, but it was interesting and useful none the less, mainly for the additional considerations it put forth about the powers. Several in-character documents about Mythos Phenomena comprise Appendix B, and they are perfect for handouts to give to players, tying into the other material in the book.
This is followed by a complementary and short Appendix C with new skills. Like the first Delta Green book, this one also has several adventures, which make up Appendix D. The first of these, A Victim of the Art is the weakest because of its straighforwardness, there aren't the usual twists and turns to make it interesting. The second, Night Floors was an example of the Hastur Mythos and was so good in the beginning that I stopped reading it in the hopes I could convince someone to run it for me to play in. The final adventure, born of a Pagan in-joke, is the fun-filled zombie tale of Dead Letter that I will likely be using as a backdrop for a fine All Flesh Must Be Eaten game. The book close out with a staggeringly comprehensive catalogue of world-wide intelligence and law enforcement agencies, taking up more than 100 pages with detailed histories and other information, useful in any espionage game, Delta Green or not.
The first chapter deals with the PISCES organization of Great Britain, which is similar to Delta Green itself, except that it harbors corruption at its core. The Insects from Shaggai are also given a great deal of detail here, as they have wormed their way into the minds of Britain's intelligence agencies. The well-thought out development of the Insects and their development within PISCES as well as their opponents, the Army of the Third Eye, produces a fine area to diverge a Delta Green chronicle into, or to start an entirely new one in the midst of the paranoia and conspiracy. The second chapter is in a similar vein, talking about the GRU SV-8, the Russian intelligence agency buried within the Mythos, trying to fight its own version of the good fight. Again, like the PISCES information, this section is well-thought out and executed and works excellently as either its own campaign or an addition to a Delta Green game, and it is similarly immersed in the Mythos. The detail and intriguing ideas of these sections fills the mind with grand ideas for chronicles and games, probably more than could ever be used.
Following those organizations is a chapter on the Skoptsi, a brilliantly done Cthulhoid cult, worshipping Shub-Niggurath. Their history and religious beliefs make them deep, terrifying opponents in a Mythos game, and I found the turn of dark humor served to make them all the more interesting. Their faith is horrifying but believable enough to actually have some sort of impact, and they are worked into the setting in a way that makes them easy to employ. Next is the chapter on the Outlook Group, an organization within Majestic 12 that serves as a training and testing ground for MJ-12 operatives - and is a peek into how twisted and inhuman the conspiracy has become. Probably my least favorite setting chapter because of its clearly defined focus, it is still quite good and could have great impact on games that are intimately concerned with MJ-12.
The book continues with a look at the tabloid show Phenomen-X, which is just getting clued in on the Mythos, and is an excellent chronicle idea, especially for those unfamiliar with the Cthulhu Lore piled up over the ages. It combined the best elements of shows like The X-Files while spiking up the unknown and the paranoia considerably. Working equally well as the basis of a chronicle or to be used as an antagonist in a standard Delta Green game, Phenomen-X is a great idea done well, like all of Delta Green. Similarly, the section on Tiger Transit continues the trend of quality. Perhaps my favorite section, along with GRU SV-8, this is a perfect example of adapting the Mythos to the modern world, and dragging in conspiracies like only Delta Green can do. A combination of tcho-tcho cannibals, CIA conspiracy and the evil influence of the Mythos has spread the malicious South Asia natives into the America - and into the drug trade across the world.
The D Stacks are the next thing in the book, and they detail the life and work of not only Dr Jensen Wu, the caretaker of the stacks, but also several mysterious artifacts themselves. Packed with story ideas, the D Stacks also serve as an excellent exposition tool for the Keeper who wants to get a bit of ancient lore (Mythos or not) to the characters without having to give them everything or letting them understand it all. The Keepers of the Faith, on the other hand, serve as a much more active tool for the Keeper. The chapter details the ghouls of New York City, their fallen state and their devout faith - and those who abandon it. Another one of my favorite sections of the book, these ghouls are noble and pathetic at the same time, and cries out to be used in a campaign of jaded Delta Green operatives.
The setting information ends with the ninth chapter, dealing with the Hastur Mythos, a different direction for a Delta Green game to take. While I love this new Mythos and I adore its surreal potential, the chapter could have been written with a little more general use in mind and, combined with the sheer difficulty in properly executing the Mythos in any condition, that prevents it from being my favorite section of the book. The adventure Night Floors does a good job of showing the Hastur Mythos in action, but I still wanted more, if only because it was such a great idea to begin with.
This review leaves me with the same problem I have when I reviewed the first Delta Green book - it feels impossible to really give a feel for how truly great this book is. Reading it is like toying with a jigsaw puzzle of a brilliant work of art - each piece is beautiful on its own but simply gains more when you place in the greater pattern, and all of the pieces fit so perfectly you wonder why they didn't spring to mind immediately when you saw the spaces. I suppose that might be the best description of Delta Green: a work of art hidden inside a puzzle concealed within a role playing game.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)