Delta Green: Iconoclasts
Delta Green is a big government black ops, all about the modern here-and-now conspiracies organization looking into and mitigating unnatural threats to the fragile reality bubble civilians live within. In Delta Green, players assume the role of Agents within either the Program, the fully funded yet highly shadowed governmental agency, or the Outlaws, an even more shadowy sub-sect of Delta Green formed during an event known as the “schism.” Agents’ lives have many facets and layers of complexities that strain their sanity and grip on reality.
Iconoclasts offers Agents and Handlers a slightly different Delta Green experience, an extended Delta Green operation set in 2016. A lethal incursion of the unnatural in war-torn Mosul, Iraq, requires case officers and analysts to investigate and confirm the scale and scope of the incursion, gather the resources necessary and deploy them against it. Finally, Agents must infiltrate ISIL-held territory to contain and neutralize the threat imposed by the incursion. Although not expressed denoted, this extended operation can accommodate up to six players and will play out over several sessions.
Iconoclasts consists of three scenarios and a detailed briefing, not merely a one-off scenario. With additional setting information and rules rounding out this 206-page book, we’ll look at each of the chapters while remaining as spoiler-free as possible.
The operation takes place almost entirely in Mosul, save for the occasional jaunt here and there. In 2016, the year in which Inconclasts takes place, Mosul is firmly under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The opening Chapter, “Horrors in Mosul,” provides Handlers with a nicely framed overview of the current situation in Mosul. Both in terms of background information necessary to run the operation and the political factors leading up to it. The Chapter also provides background information on all the key players in this extended operation, overarching motives, life in Mosul under ISIL, and a chronological timeline of events crucial for Handlers.
The operation begins in earnest with “A Black Smoke Rising.” Not your typical scenario; players will assume the roles of non-Delta Green operatives and play ISIL foreign fighters. Having fluency in European languages and tech and media, these ISIL members have been assigned to make recruitment videos for ISIL’s online magazine – Dabiq. Their current assignment takes them to the home of a suspected infidel, where they are to film the destruction and confiscation of his collection of blasphemous pre-Islamic artifacts. Under the watchful eye of their two handlers, they enthusiastically set about completing their assignment for the day.
A word about ISIL’s draconian version of Islam – The draconian nature of ISIL’s version of Islam is very real and has very harsh and possibly dire consequences for those violating its tenets. The author provides advice on how players can incorporate these real-life laws into the narrative for a more authentic experience. The majority of this can be seen in “A Black Smoke Rising” and “Among Jinn and Men.” For example, on the leading page of “Among Jinn and Men” is a sidebar providing advice on incorporating female Agents into the scenario in a realistic way and does not draw unwanted ISIL attention.
After “A Black Smoke Rising,” the game transitions to a more traditional Delta Green experience. In “Operation BONE BOX,” players are members of the Program, the officially sanctioned version of Delta Green. As members of Task Force 01132, they have been selected to go into northern Iraq, a territory currently controlled by ISIL. Due to the extreme nature of the operation, each Agent is hand-picked from the U.S. Special Operations Command, federal law enforcement, and the intelligence community.
Having just arrived at Panzer Kaserne, a Marine Corps and Special Forces base in southern Germany, the Agents receive their operational briefing. Dovetailing this highly classified briefing in an interview with an asset that may be able to fill in some of the missing pieces. At the conclusion of the intelligence briefing, Agents at dispatched to Iraq.
In “The Evil of the Whisperer,” there is a heavy focus on tradecraft and espionage. The sole purpose of this scenario is for Agents to undertake intelligence collection operations needed to piece together the situation, make all necessary connections, and formulate their plan for executing their mission in the third and final scenario – “Among Jinn and Men.”
To get the job done, Agents travel to Iraq, landing at the airport just outside Kirkuk, a city currently under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga. They are provided a trailer at the airport that doubles as their command post and living quarters. From here, the scenario is very much a freewheeling intelligence-gathering exercise. Agents will have to exploit a shadowy network of contacts within the region. “The evil of the Whisperer” can create complex networks of informants, dubious contacts, and illicit horsetrading to acquire much-needed information. Facilitating the complexities is a selection of domestic and foreign government intelligence services and contacts with their own set of motivations. Conversely, Agents can take a more straightforward approach, but that is not likely to end well for them. Their covers are thin enough and won’t stand up to much scrutiny for too long.
There are two ways for Handlers to approach “The Evil of the Whisperer,” depending on the group’s play style and how quickly they want to finish the operation – slow burn or sudden flash. As a scenario designed to highlight the intricacies of intelligence collection through tradecraft and espionage, it is intentionally designed as a slow burn. However, Handlers can adjust on the fly by providing the critical details more swiftly, presenting multiple clues at a time, for the sudden flash style of play (for those with limited time). Handlers should always ensure the tension remains high regardless of the delivery style, given the uncertainties of the business at hand and the organizations with which Agents will be interacting, without losing sight of pacing, always moving the story forward.
Everything up to this point has been to collect and analyze intelligence from the field. The operation switches gears in “Among Jinn and Men,” as Operation BONEBOX moves from intelligence collection to direct Agent-oriented actions in ISIL-held Mosul. Everything they have collected, analyzed, and done up to this point has hopefully positioned them to take action against the unnatural forces that threaten the world.
Much like “The Evil of the Whisperer,” “Among Jinn and Men” is a freewheeling sandbox. It is up to the Agents as to how they execute their mission and rendezvous at whatever extraction point they have arranged. This portion of the operation focuses on stopping the incursion of the unnatural that brought them to Iraq. As presented, this scenario is more akin to a collection of resources and tools for the Handler to employ as the Agents make their way from Kirkuk into Mosul, eventually finding their way to the former capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from 911 to 609 BCE, known as Nineveh. Sitting on the bank of the Tigris River, surrounded by the suburbs of Mosul, it was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, first settled some eight thousand years ago.
With boots on the ground, Agents can continue to collect vital intelligence previously unavailable to them through their network of contacts that further their operational objectives. I wish Agents all the best; they are going to need it!
In “Blacker than Blacker,” Handlers are provided with supplemental rules necessary to present the Agents with a compelling narrative as it unfolds in “The Evil of the Whisper.” These rules include getting agencies to perform functions for the Agents. While similar to the “requisition” rules in Delta Green, there are nuanced differences specific to Iconoclasts. Once Agents have the cooperation of other agencies and their operatives, there is a chance things do not go according to plan. When things go pear-shaped, blowback is a possibility. When this occurs, there are real and lasting consequences the Agents may have to contend with. Delta Green Agents are notorious for pushing the envelope when necessary, and “going rogue” may be required to accomplish the mission. However, there are risks associated, as you can imagine.
Rounding out the book is the Appendix containing various clever and helpful tools and expanded details for the Handler. Covered at length is the unnatural force and how it manifests, functions, and other secrets for Handlers. The Appendix also includes a selection of rituals, artifacts and tomes, name lists, glossary, and organizational charts.
Eight pre-generated Agents are provided to facilitate the needs and intricacies of this operation. That is not to say players cannot create their own Agents. In fact, there is advice given at the beginning of “Operation BONE BOX” and “Among Jinn and Men” for those wishing to create their own Agents. However, given the nature of the operation at hand, player-created Agents must meet specific requirements for each scenario. Some pre-gens are better suited for the operational needs in “The Evil of the Whisperer,” the scenario following the operational briefing in “Operation BONE BOX,” and/or “Among Jinn and Men.” Players are encouraged to decide which Agents to play in each scenario.
As of this review, Iconoclasts is only available as a PDF, with an offset print version forthcoming in the future. As with all Delta Green books, Iconoclasts is U.S. letter size, full color, and beautifully illustrated by Dennis Detwiller in the style Delta Green fans expect. The scenarios making up this extended operation are seamlessly arranged, keeping story continuity. Furthermore, the PDF is nicely bookmarked and has a fully hyperlinked table of contents, making navigating the document a breeze.
Accompanying the PDF is a file of handouts and a file pack of tokens for use with online play. This is a nice touch. Something we see more and more from publishers, but not often enough. Therefore, the extra effort put forth by Arc Dream Publishing is not something I am taking for granted.
Bottom line: Iconoclasts will not be a Delta Green operation for everyone. It is an extended operation, simply meaning a mini-campaign. However, it will be a bright shining star for those willing to put in the effort.
As I began to read, my initial thoughts were, “holy crap; this is bonkers; I love it!” And I still stand by my initial impression, but that impression is more informed after reading the book in its entirety. Handlers interested in Iconoclasts should expect some pre-game planning and be willing to make off-the-cuff decisions on the fly.
The very nature of the operation, the Agents’ involvement with a myriad of other agencies and organizations, may be challenging for some Handlers to pull off convincingly. Equally as challenging may be conveying the realities of life under ISIL rule and war-torn Mosul for those without a military background. Do not let these challenges become overwhelming or offputting! A little creativity and preparation by Handlers can bridge those knowledge gaps sufficiently enough to run Iconoclasts successfully.
I have every intention of running Iconoclasts, but before doing so, I will be taking my own advice and doing plenty of pre-game preparations to ensure my players have the best possible experience. Everything a Handler needs to know about the Agencies involved is in the book; it is not the agencies but rather the contacts that may need to have some life breathed into them from time to time. Creating contacts upfront will make for smoother play. So too will having reading notes for implementing the new rules.
If you want your Delta Green to have a tradecraft and espionage-centric focus Iconoclasts is a must-buy!
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