Ramblings of General Geekery

Avoiding Playing Law Enforcement in Delta Green

I recently answered a question on Discord about Delta Green1 and since I had seen that question a couple times before I figured I would post (and heavily edit and expand) my answer here for posterity2. The question generally takes the following form:

Playing a character that’s a member of US Federal Agencies such as the FBI or the CIA raises many problematic aspects because of <insert reason here>. Is it possible to play Delta Green while also avoiding this?

This is a totally fair question as far as I’m concerned. There are indeed several good reasons to not want to portray a member of an American (or many other countries’) Law Enforcement organization as the hero of your story. But fear not! Well, I mean, do fear, this is Delta Green after all, but yes, I’ve got some hopefully helpful advice for you.

Those Are Not Heroes

My first point isn’t so much advice but a statement about player characters in Delta Green: they’re not heroes. There is zero “glorifying” of US Law Enforcement agencies in Delta Green. The game’s authors are the furthest away possible from the “Support Our Men in Blue” bumper sticker culture. In fact, if you know 5 horrible things about a US federal agency, I’m convinced the game’s authors can top that up with another 5 worse things you didn’t know about3.

In Delta Green, the federal agencies are often portrayed as big, corrupt organizations whose moral balance sheets are questionable at best. Your characters are flawed human beings who rarely do what they do because of any grand heroic motivations. They have personal reasons to fight the Unnatural, and they have to do it as part of a rotten system. They will die horribly at some point during one of the next four adventures.

Anyway, I’m not rejecting the premise of the question here, but just adding context. Let’s get on with the actual advice!

Use Other Agencies

The FBI is the go-to agency for most player characters because it makes sense both given the history of the setting (you can read all about it in the Delta Green Handler’s Guide) and given basic gameplay considerations: FBI agents are trained to get into dangerous situations, have jurisdiction over the entire country, can easily justify going on confidential missions, and most importantly they have guns. Other agencies like the CIA, the US Marshall Service, the Secret Service, the ATF, and the NSA are also good secondary picks. But these are not the only federal agencies available.

The Delta Green conspiracy recruits members from wherever they can, and wherever they need. You can create characters that belong to arguably “less problematic” agencies such as the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Safety Inspection Service, the Institute of Education Sciences, or NASA, to name just a few. Have a look at the list of US federal agencies and take your pick!

I would argue that this a better way to create characters anyway, because it provides better inspiration for your gamemaster. An FBI agent doesn’t really say much about the sort of game you want, besides, you know, that you want to shoot things or have weird dreams. But going through the examples I just mentioned, many ideas come to mind without even trying:

  • National Park Service: Folk horror! Cabins in the woods! Mysterious caves! Meteorite craters!
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Poisoned Water Reservoirs! Inspecting mines with horrible things at the bottom! New pesticides lead to dangerous mutations!
  • Food and Safety Inspection Service: The Stuff! Juicing on Shub-Niggurath’s tits! Restaurant chains owned by Tcho-Tchos!
  • Institute of Education Sciences: Educational data collection leads to a cult commune of home-schooled kids learning Horrible Things! Secret statistical program searches for toddlers with psychic abilities!
  • NASA: Mi-Go outposts on Yuggoth! Majestic-12! Researching brain-jars to put into Mars colonization probes! Yithian interference to prevent us from discovering specific stars!

Anyway, you get the idea. Some of those US federal agencies are described in the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook, while others are in “The Complex” sourcebook.

Civilians and Friendlies

Most Delta Green agents belong to the FBI or some other federal agency, but not always. The Delta Green character creation also offers many other professions such as Historian, Computer Scientist, or Physician. Those don’t have to work for a governmental agency.

You can also play as a “friendly”, i.e. someone who is not part of Delta Green, and knows even less about this whole conspiracy. But nonetheless they have seen a glimpse of it, faced the Unnatural, often by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and somehow was actually useful and somewhat effective against it. These people are rare and Delta Green keeps tabs on them, occasionally asking their help.

Playing a friendly doesn’t just mean you can have any profession or affiliation: it also means you can play the counter-notes to the other characters’ conspiracy shenanigans, which can be interesting roleplaying-wise. You could even imagine a party of all-friendlies where the Delta Green agents are NPCs who routinely get eaten by monsters, including “on-screen”. Every couple scenarios, your Delta Green contacts change and after a while, maybe Cell A promotes some of you to join the conspiracy because all these FBI cow-boys keep getting killed or going mad…

Third Parties

Back in the first edition of Delta Green, there were also non-government factions included in the setting. They could be used as allies, patsies, or player patrons. They’re only mentioned in passing in the new edition’s Handler’s Guide: Phenomen-X and Saucerwatch. They were respectively a “ghost hunters” sensational TV show, and a somewhat “serious” UFO observation association. They are firmly anchored in 1990s culture, but they are a good reference and inspiration for such “third parties”.

I’d actually love for Arc Dream to release a sourcebook that presents modern equivalents to these classic factions, as they used to provide a popular alternative to playing FBI agents. True crime podcasters and Redditor sleuths are obvious starting points if you wanted to write up your own. Over the course of a few adventures, your characters might become friendlies, or might get framed by Delta Green! Who knows? That’s part of the fun!

That’s it! Hopefully you’ve got more than enough ideas to get started with non-FBI and non-government characters in Delta Green. Have fun seeing them die all the same!

  1. One of my absolute top favourite TTRPGs, and a very formative game for me ↩︎
  2. Of course I wouldn’t have to if people stayed on good old forums and mailing lists, whose archives are public and indexed… but no, somehow we decided to move our communities to proprietary, commercially owned, closed-off platforms because, I don’t know, emojis? ↩︎
  3. You won’t believe fact number 2, and fact number 4 will make you strongly consider moving to Finland! ↩︎