Directives from A-Cell

Directives from A-Cell is a roughly annual magazine column by Adam Scott Glancy, started in 2004. The articles outline various aspects of the Delta Green setting, not limited to the policy of Cell A.

In Worlds of Cthulhu

The column ran regularly in Worlds of Cthulhu magazine, starting with issue #1.

101: “New Foreign Intelligence Agency Threats to Delta Green”

This was the first Directive, published in 2004. It was made available on the official Delta Green site in 2012, right here.

Directive 101 describes the creation of Delta Green-like organizations outside the US, UK and former USSR. Glancy states that the intelligence communities of these specific countries were all primed by the Karotechia in WWII, whereas continental European countries lost supernatural expertise for the same reason: The Karotechia rounded up and ultimately executed every expert they could lay their hands on. There is another important reason for restraint:

If we continue to expand the canon of Delta Green to include more and more government agencies that are Mythos-aware then that secret world is going to have an awfully hard time staying secret. The more government agencies that know, the more likely it is that some government is going to decide that the Mythos is no more dangerous than plutonium and try and add Azathoth to their list of weapons of mass destruction.

In other words, the likelihood of Mythos knowledge staying hidden from the average person is inversely proportional to the spread of such knowledge. A leak from an overgrown conspiracy and logical utilization of Mythos forces by legitimate agencies would both have the power to change human civilization in the same way, which is to say a great deal, and in short order.

Glancy toys with the idea of a French equivalent to Delta Green that is not aware of the Mythos: Section Disparu. In the process, he discusses four general considerations: Scope, mission, history and theme.

‘Scope’ defines the agency’s budget, manpower, jurisdiction, official sanction and chain of command. ‘Mission’ defines how the agency will come into contact with the DG universe, how it will relate to the Cthulhu Mythos. ‘History’ defines how it came into being and how its scope and mission changed since it was founded. Finally, ‘theme’ defines what concepts we hope to represent through the use of this fictional agency. Delta Green’s theme is the burden of responsibility that comes with knowledge. Majestic-12’s theme is the corruption of power. PISCES’ theme is paranoia. The theme of GRU SV8 is fading hope.

102: “Conspiracy With a Little ‘C’”

Published in Worlds of Cthulhu, issue #2, 2005. Made available on the official Delta Green site in 2012, here.

Directive 102 adds more advice about rolling one's own investigative agency instead of playing Delta Green agents, particularly an organization like Section Disparu which doesn't actually have Mythos knowledge. Glancy takes several real organizations as examples that could be used as is and suddenly encounter the Mythos, including the South African Police Service's fundamentalist Occult-Related Crimes Unit and Europol.

Any local police force could also be converted by the players in a scenario alluding to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, i.e. any stable, immobile, probably indestructible source of supernatural phenomena at the local level. The article also discusses highly publicized court cases against Marc Dutroux and Patrice Alegre, where accusations of conspiracy muddled the waters. A case like one of these could result in a project to investigate the alleged conspiracy, and this project would be well placed to encounter Mythos forces, without becoming a complete power fantasy for the players.

103: “Kicking Ass for the Lord — The Congregation”

Published in Worlds of Cthulhu, issue #3, 2005. Made available on the official Delta Green site in 2012, here.

Directive 103 deals with the Catholic Church and its approach to Mythos threats, extrapolated from clergy in Mythos stories in the same way that Delta Green was extrapolated out of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The organization, discussed under the name of the Congregation, embodies the popular conservative impulse that change and facts are bad, and pays the price with its ineffective methods. The title of the article alludes to Peter Jackson's Braindead.

104: “No Gold Watch — ‘Retiring’ From Delta Green”

Published in Worlds of Cthulhu, issue #4, 2006. Made available on the official Delta Green site in 2012, here.

Directive 104 establishes that new recruits to Delta Green are not spontaneously told they can quit. Nonetheless, there is a way out. If their nerves allow it, retiring Agents are demoted to Friendlies, using their expertise and privileges but keeping away from the front lines. If they want out completely, Cell A examines their cell's degree of adherence to compartmentalized security. If proper procedure has been followed, cutting a former Agent out of the loop is easy. Her former associates within the conspiracy are suddenly informed of her true identity and all the locks she could open are changed.

If all security protocols are observed, no cell members know each other’s true identities. They are only supposed to know each other’s code names and how to contact each other via encrypted cell phones and email. Only the top cell, A-Cell, knows all the Agents, all the Friendlies, and their true identities.

If errors have already compromised the organization, the retiring Agent may be assassinated, but this is a last resort. Former Agents who know the stakes and are not a direct threat are always a potential resource in desperate circumstances. This may be true even if the Agent was forced out (blackballed) as a potential threat. Agents are forced out under the following circumstances:

  • Despite the normally thorough screening process, the Agent doesn't have the right personality to do the work.
  • Criminal activity beyond the needs of the group.
  • Associating voluntarily with known targets of the group, such as sharing information with Majestic-12 in your spare time.
  • Incompetence in spite of correction.
  • Crippling physical or mental damage. If you are permanently disabled and still want to fight, you are forced out.

By contrast, losing one's day job is not cause for dismissal from the group. A fired Agent is simply expected to contribute less in the way of siphoned government resources.

The main difference between voluntary and involuntary retirement is the tone of the debriefing. Those who are about to be cut off may even be threatened, but steps are taken to prevent former associates from growing bitter. The handicapped are pensioned through legitimate fronts.

Those on the outside who keep trying to get back in, whether for personal status or the resources to fight the Mythos once more, mark themselves as unprofessional and unreliable. They are met with threats, blackmail, and ultimately a quiet assassination. Death in the line of duty is also covered up:

When an Agent or Friendly dies on a Delta Green operation, Delta Green has to make sure that the death will not be connected to the Delta Green conspiracy or seen as evidence of supernatural activity. The deceased Agents’ cellmates usually handle the cover-up. It’s up to them to provide the shallow roadside grave, cover up the coroner’s report, or arrange for a fiery one-car freeway accident to obscure the facts.

It is not the cell mates who “descend on the deceased Agent’s home and office and thoroughly search it for anything that might connect the deceased to the conspiracy.” Cell A has specialists for that, and they do not want to meet the survivors. Secrecy is the highest priority, trumping pride, moral feeling and punishment.

105: “Delta Green and the Long War”

Published in Worlds of Cthulhu, issue #5, 2007. Made available on the official Delta Green site in 2012, here.

In Directive 105, Glancy states that playing Delta Green after 9/11 without taking it into account would be like playing a game set in the 1940s and ignoring World War II. The attacks on 9/11 suddenly made the long-standing threat of terrorism against the powerful seem urgent, and this had a profound effect on the intelligence community.

Explanations for agent absence (“fictional training cycles, impromptu hardship leaves, and unscheduled sick leave and vacations”) became harder to sell, as the work ethic got more strict. Some legal powers of surveillance and detention were expanded and new agencies were created. Some checks and balances were simply ignored. Glancy outlines the likely response of Delta Green.

  • In a “business as usual” scenario, Agents are forced to become mere overseers of Friendlies, who are tasked with the majority of the field work.
  • In the canonical scenario, Delta Green merges with Majestic-12. There is no more aid from the Greys.

George H.W. Bush was briefed by Majestic-12. His son, George W. Bush, will learn about this secret weapon. The question then becomes how successful he is at finding and using it.

  • The White House could weaponize MJ, subordinating it for black ops, possibly against political opponents or anti-war activists as well as Bin Laden.
  • Neither Delta Green nor the old guard of MJ will want to be found. Giving Bush's “White House staffers and Defense Department appointees” the run-around would be taxing, reinforcing the need for stealthy, small-scale operations, as in the 1994 cell structure.
  • If found, MJ is not actually well suited to fight the War on Terror. As punishment for failure, its facilities could be handed over to its jealous competitors, or the entire organization disbanded.

Glancy considers mining the vein of US islamophobia, as he believes HPL would have done. However, this is racist and strains credibility:

My immediate impulse is not to inject the Mythos into Al-Qaeda. If the Mythos is behind every human atrocity and violent philosophy on the planet, the Great Old Ones are not going to remain secret for very long. Not to mention that such ubiquity will leave the Mythos a bit trite.

A more useful approach would be to take a group inspired by the beheaded version of Al-Qaeda that existed after the invasion of Afghanistan, and tempt this group with the option of a sorcery it would normally consider anathema: Fragments of the “thrice-damned Kitab Al Azif and its daemonic author Abdul Alhazred”.

If some group of Islamist terrorists were to perform a human sacrifice to call down Yog-Sothoth on Washington, D.C., there is no doubt the soul-shattering horror would be blamed on Zionist agents, or that the reality of the event would be denied.

106: “After 9/11, a ‘Friendlier’ Delta Green”

Published in Worlds of Cthulhu, issue #6, 2009. Made available on the official Delta Green site in 2012, here.

Directive 106 is a follow-up to 105, with more ideas on how Delta Green itself has changed after 9/11. The focus is on the first few years after the attacks on New York and Washington D.C., and the first scenario mentioned in Directive 105, where Friendlies do the field work and Agents take on a supporting role, without reference to MJ-12. Glancy speculates that this inverted responsibility will both alienate and empower some Friendlies as a group to branch off into a quasi-independent entity. As an aid in this difficult time, Delta Green will occasionally fabricate evidence to have Mythos cults perceived as organized crime organizations or terrorist cells.

Classic Call of Cthulhu cults act in many ways like terrorist cells. They recruit and indoctrinate new members, they smuggle old members in from outside the country, they gather resources (often illegally), and they engage in murder to further their agenda. Very often they commit very prosecutable crimes.

Glancy again emphasizes that the connections between Delta Green and the professional communities impacted by the War on Terror demand change, but speaks against the use of 9/11 “troofer” premisses in the game:

September 11 is a touchy subject, surrounded by tasteless and brainless conspiracy theories that we at Delta Green have chosen to steer clear of. This is not new for us. We steered away from a number of popular conspiracy theories and horrifying events so as not to demean the event or clutter our campaign world with endless Mythos collusions in world history.

In The Unspeakable Oath

See The Unspeakable Oath magazine.

107: “Firing the Canon”

Published in issue #20, June 2011.

Directive 108 describes Glancy's approach to the concept of a dividing line between some elements of the Delta Green (or any RPG) setting, and everything else. This is the idea of a canon. After a preliminary discussion of this concept as such, Glancy outlines how to disregard it for the purpose of surprising players.

108: “Tradecraft Meets Lovecraft”

Published in issue #21, July 2012.

Directive 108 has some pointers on credible tradecraft. It advertises the Tradecraft skill from Countdown, and then attacks its principal weakness:

Players who run spooks and feds want to know how to convincingly act like spooks and feds. Adding a new skill to the game isn’t going to provide the immersion these players are looking for. They want to know the tricks of the trade.

Glancy recommends a technical incentive: making skill rolls easier, or obviating them entirely, when a player describes an appropriate action. If no roll is made because of a correct description, no skill check is gained, i.e. the skill does not improve; a balancing disincentive.

For example, a player wants to determine if he is being followed without revealing that he is on the lookout for a tail. He needs to roll under Spot Hidden/Tradecraft. To gain a bonus, he could tell the Keeper the actual tradecraft technique he’s going to use: a cleaning run. The player character checks for a tail using reflections in store windows while he appears to be browsing. He goes into public places with confining entrances and exits. He sits in a coffee shop to read the paper while keeping an eye on the patrons.

Sources of genuine tradecraft information are discussed, coming out in favor of specific intelligence historians, journalists and memoirs over fiction. Glancy recommends getting the whole group actively involved in studying such sources, making the argument that this is no more strenuous than getting more familiar with the fantasy genre in order to play a better game of Dungeons & Dragons.

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