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Delta Green: Agent’s Handbook (2016)

In 2016, Arc Dream Publishing released a Delta Green as a stand-alone RPG (as opposed to the original Delta Green material, which was released as sourcebook material for use with Call of Cthulhu). It comes in a two-volume slipcase — this is the player book, the Agent’s Handbook.

Moving to a standalone system allows the game to shine a spotlight on the moral and psychological toll the supernatural takes on agents and their families. Turns out that government guys with guns? Worst possible people to deal with supernatural threats. Delta Green is as much about navigating the moral maze of accountability as it is about tentacle monsters.  

Two key features distinguish the game. The first is lethality, which just generally makes combat, particularly ballistic combat, deadlier. That goes a long way toward making players hesitant to use all those guns.

Then there are Bonds, the people who matter to the agent. Sanity works similarly to Call of Cthulhu, with exposure to horrible things (violence, helplessness and the unnatural) whittling away the attribute. You can opt to save sanity by letting the value of a Bond relationship deteriorate instead. This manifests in the game as an increasing distance between the character and their loved ones as they wrestle with the traumas induced by their work. If a Bond’s value drops to zero, the relationship is lost and potentially more of a character’s sanity with it as they become more isolated. This is balanced by Down Time, during which old Bonds can be repaired and new Bonds made, bolstering sanity (alternately, players can opt to have their characters lean in to their investigative obsessions, corroding their relationships further in exchange for benefits once the scenario resumes).

Delta Green puts an increased value on examining the human toll of the missions. This attempts to get at something essential about characters and their relationships to their trauma. It doesn’t always ring true, but it represents a vast improvement over sanity systems that feature pulp-inspired caricatures of mental health.

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