Fragile Reality – A Review of Delta Green: Black Sites

Black Sites

Operations and Incursions for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game

Author: Various
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
Page Count: 208
Available Formats: Print & PDF
Print/PDF combo – $44.99
PDF – $19.99

Delta Green is and has always been a game about big government black ops and an off-the-record agency tasked with mitigating unnatural threats to the fragile reality bubble civilians live within, operating within complex layers of conspiracies within conspiracies. Since debuting Delta Green Role-Playing Game in 2016, Arc Dream Publishing has regularly released scenarios in softcover. Black Sites is a collection of seven previously published scenarios, collected into a single hardcover volume with a previously unpublished “two-minute terror” added as a bonus.

Each scenario is self-contained; there is no common thread linking them together into a larger Delta Green operation. In his introduction, Shave Ivey provides some advice on how a Handler could weave other Delta Green products with the scenarios found within to form a wide-reaching, multi-year narrative. The play length of each scenario varies. Most scenarios are playable in two to four 4- to 6-hour sessions depending on the Agents’ actions.

The scenarios included in Black Sites include:

  • PX Poker Night – Platte AFB, Nebraska
  • Kali Ghati – Paktika Province, Afghanistan
  • The Last Equation – Alliance, New Jersey
  • Lover in the Ice – Lafontaine, Missouri
  • Sweetness – Tampa, Florida
  • Hourglass – Hourglass, Oregon
  • Ex Oblivione – Yuma, Arizona
  • The Child – Location undetermined

The Scenarios

Given the scale and scope of these scenarios, it will be nigh impossible to give readers anything more than a high-level summary and my overall thoughts on each while still maintaining an air of brevity to this review.

PX Poker Night – Platte AFB, Nebraska

For airmen at Platte Airforce Base, Nebraska, a junkyard for decommissioned aircraft, their only solace is a weekly poker game. But tonight’s game is canceled due to unwanted visitors. “PX Poker Night” is a scenario we previously reviewed. You can read our full review here – Aces Up – A Review of Delta Green: PX Poker Night.

Kali Ghati – Paktika Province, Afghanistan

CIA Agent Tim Ellis has gone missing. He was deployed to Forward Operating Base Turner, located in the mountains of Sar Hawza district of Paktika Province, Afghanistan, to investigate rumors of Kali Ghati, a haunted village. Ellis is a CIA Clandestine Services operative using the cover of an Army Intelligence Major. The Agents are dispatched from their operating location inside Afghanistan to FOB Turner with strict orders to find Ellis and not to let him fall into the hands of the Taliban. This outwardly conventional military-themed operation will take them to hell, and if they are lucky, they will return.

“Kali Ghati” is a fine operation, even if the storyline is somewhat linear. It would do well as the culmination scenario in a larger Afghanistan-centric operation of the Handler’s own devising. It might also work well as an interlude operation for the Agents. However, when I compare it to the others in the book, it feels a little “average,” but it does have its place.

The Last Equation – Alliance, New Jersey

After solving a centuries-old mathematical equation, Columbia University graduate student Michael Wei drives to Alliance, New Jersey, enters the home of Malcolm and Dinah Ridgeway, and murders the entire family with a shotgun before turning the gun on himself in front of the house. Local police find Wei’s body in the street, lying beside a series of spray-painted numbers, but are stumped as to what they might mean if anything.

“The Last Equation” is a scenario that is sure to challenge Agents, putting their skills to use. If they learn too much, it will be detrimental to their sanity. This is a nicely conceived scenario that is sure to keep Agents on their toes. It offers some unique opportunities for players to explore Delta Green’s reach and some options, including bringing others into the fold.

Lover in the Ice – Lafontaine, Missouri

An apocalyptic ice storm blankets Lafontaine, Missouri, just after the New Year. This extreme cold front causes the ground temperature to drop by 17º Celius in only a few hours. Simultaneously humidity rockets to 100% leading to thunderstorms, which blanket the area in heavy ice—virtually flash-freezing the area. As a result, a long-forgotten green box is compromised, setting into motion a dual catastrophe for local residents.

The compromised green box sets off an alarm that leads to the Agents being dispatched to assess the situation, contain any possible threats or incursions, and appropriately deal with any possible aftermath. The Agents, with FEMA credentials, travel to the ice-stricken town only to find a hot mess on their hands. They need to quickly assess the situation and formulate a plan before things get out of hand any further. However, the ice and the lack of essential utilities hamper their efforts every step of the way.

“Lovers in the Ice” is not a scenario I would recommend for most play groups as it deals with some very adult themes and subject matter. I highly recommend Handlers speak to their players about the scenario’s themes beforehand and employ safety tools such as the X-Card.

Sweetness – Tampa, Florida

A home in a well-to-do neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, has its front door vandalized with strange graffiti. The homeowners are a prosperous bi-racial family; local authorities are investigating it as a racially motivated hate crime. The local news briefly sensationalized the incident, bringing it to Delta Green’s attention. Agents are dispatched to assess and contain as required.

“Sweetness” is a very short scenario that, on the surface, comes across as a twisted, racially motivated incursion but, in the end, shows itself to be deeper than that. It will have Agents traveling from Florida to the Midwest once they learn what is happening and who may be at the root of it all. Its short playing time lends itself well to being a transitional scenario in a larger operation. Furthermore,  due to its brevity, it would do well as a convention scenario and should fit nicely into a four-hour time slot.

Hourglass – Hourglass, Oregon

A video of a middle-aged, dark-haired, harried-looking woman has gone viral. In it, she can be seen standing on a park bench, shouting and crying in front of a handful of onlookers as she spouts nonsensical drivel about how someone or someones takes women and children. But before she can finish, in mid-sentence, she screams in agony and disappears right in front of the camera. The video quickly comes to the attention of Delta Green. Agents are dispatched to find out what happened in the video, and as always, they are to stop any incursion.

The investigation takes Agents to Hourglass, Oregon. There they will begin to learn about their disappearing woman, Terri Santos, and about those around her. In town, the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is a prominent feature providing considerable revenues. While it might garner suspicion from the city council and more orthodox church leaders because of their secretive nature, they are traditional, conservative, and God-fearing folk in all the ways that matter.

Agents will need to peer behind the curtain, connect the web of clues, and follow leads that take them into the heart of a centuries-old organization to find their answers.

“Hourglass” plays up societal fears of church-like cults and their secretive natures to good effect. It also offers players a more traditional investigative-type experience with all the ups and downs you might expect as if you were watching a police procedural series. For Handlers, the web of clues is somewhat sprawling but by no means unmanageable. There is enough background information to help put things into context and allow for easy narrative shaping.

Ex Oblivione – Yuma, Arizona

The horrific murder of an entire family in a small desert town is found several days after the murders were committed. Members of the Yuma Police Department quickly realize the scene has the hallmarks of ritualism. With no credible witnesses, the Yuma PD puts the word out to neighboring communities that they are looking for a drifter. This is where Delta Green gets involved. Agents are dispatched to the Yuma area to investigate the murders.

The killings, with their seemingly ritualistic nature, are just the most recent event in a long series of events dating back to February 1928 and to a little New England seaside town called Innsmouth. Agents must piece together clues found at the murder scene and elsewhere. Clues are aplenty if they know what they are looking for and how to piece them together. Agents ultimately find themselves being pulled into a game of cat-and-mouse with someone far more skilled than they are.

“Ex Oblivione” is an exciting, albeit disturbing, scenario. It is very much a detective-oriented story with a strange but plausible connection to the Mythos. It is built on the premise that certain events transpired following the historic raid on Innsmouth in 1928. Taking those “what ifs” as facts and evolving them to the point that culminates with the events in “Ex Oblivione.” Given the facts of the case, this will not be a scenario for everyone, and Handlers should use a little caution when deciding if this scenario is suitable for their group.

The Child – Location undetermined

“The Child” is not a scenario or operation in the classic sense. Rather, it is what Shane Ivey calls a “Two-Minute Terror.” These are brief one-off encounters, mysteries, or complications meant to be inserted into ongoing games to add depth and strangeness. “The Child” is exactly that, a child. Agents may be introduced to this child in any number of ways. This child is not like other children. Displaying odd mannerisms and quirks presents interesting challenges for the Agents when trying to interact with them. If successful in breaking through the communications barrier, interesting outcomes are possible. Conversely, should they plumb the depths of the strangeness itself, more will reveal itself.

This “Two-Minute Terror” comes across as a fun bit of strangeness that can be inserted into any existing game. The Child may be used for a variety of effects in an ongoing game. This might be to introduce, foreshadow information, or just add a bit of new strangeness. It should, however, not obstruct the ongoing game in any way. It’s simply a nice insertable oddity meant to shake things up.

Presentation

Black Sites comes in a  beautiful full-color letter-sized hardcover book and a digital version as well. It has all the hallmarks of the Delta Green product line—thematically creepy art, a two-column layout, important text like necessary rolls in bold, and a consistent arrangement of information. The digital version has a hyperlinked table of contents, but unlike other products, it does not include a separate file with handouts and pre-generated Agents. Not to worry, most of the scenarios are not handout-heavy, and what handouts there are can be printed from the PDF with relative ease. As for the pre-gens, only PX Poker Night and Kali Ghati have them.

A detailed index is provided to help handlers cross-reference and build broader, sweeping connections between horrors in their campaigns. While I see very little in the way of making connections between these scenarios using the index, I can see it being useful when paired with the Agent’s and Handler’s handbooks.

All-in-all, the book is solidly laid out, but bear in mind that all but one of these scenarios was previously published. To that end, let’s talk about the elephant in the room for a moment. I feel that Arc Dream Publishing missed a golden opportunity to proofread or correct past mistakes when compiling Black Sites. It appears as if they collated and renumbered the pages and then released the book. The book should have been proofread before release to find and correct some rather obvious typos and, in some cases, glaring continuity mistakes. For example, in “Kali Ghati,” some very hard-to-parse passages that just do not make any sense in their current form. Additionally, page references were not updated from the stand-alone version to this collected volume. In “The Last Equation,” there are some date inconsistencies regarding Fascius Claudan. In “Sweetness,” the daughter is said to be ages 8, 10, and a young woman—the latter term is usually reserved for teenage girls. I spot checked digital version of the book (v4), and the errors persist.

Final Thoughts

Black Sites pulls together seven published scenarios into one volume with a bonus tossed in for good measure. Each of the scenarios stands on its own merit, with some being better than others. That is not to say that any are bad, just that all are not equal in their appeal, subject matter, depth, and so on. I found two rising above the rest in terms of their appeal, scope, and creative flavor—”Sweetness” and “Ex Oblivione,” the book’s shortest, least complex, and perhaps the longest and most complex scenario.

Regarding the editorial and proofreading concerns I raised, I was honestly a little disappointed to see some of these errors. However, I want to be very clear on this point, no single proofing or editing concern is so egregious that it makes a scenario unplayable. I simply think it was an opportunity lost on the part of Arc Dream Publishing to further make these scenarios shine.

Should you purchase Black Sites? I unequivocally say yes! Especially if you are an avid Delta Green fan, prefer having multiple scenarios bound into a single volume, or like me, want a nice selection of scenarios at your fingertips for far less than the individual books cost. If you already own some of these scenarios individually and want the others, you will have to decide which format you prefer—only you can make that decision.

~Modoc

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