Structuring Investigations

How does one plan a successful simulation? In August of 2008, James Haughton wrote to the DGML:

Monster placement

I've received some mixed feedback on a few investigations I've written or Kept because I tend to put the monster first, rather than last.

I take the view that in the real world it's only occasionally that one gets the happy outcome of infiltrate, study, disrupt etc the cult/gang/terrorist cell/etc ahead of time; more usually they do something horrible (rob a bank, bomb London, fly a plane into the WTC, summon an Unnamable Thing) first and the investigators' job is to clean up the mess and catch them before they can do it again. So I tend to start with the big bang (summoning, etc), rather than "the you all decide to investigate the mysterious brotherhood of the copper pigeon and things gradually get more and more wrong", which seems more Classic than DG CoC to me. DG is an ad-hoc org with a limited budget and more cases than agents; I see them more in the role of firefighters than long-term investigators.

On the other hand this approach goes against the popular TV-series like structure in which the Big Bad appears at the end; it also tends to give the players an adrenaline rush at the start followed by an investigative let down which isn't as exciting. It might be more realistic but doesn't seem to inspire.

Thoughts on how to overcome this dichotomy appreciated.

Initial answers

Edward Lipsett:

An initial big bad happening is a good thing, especially if it eats one of the investigators or otherwise wakes them up.

It's even better if you make it clear that it was not an isolated incident, and will either keep happening, or be joined by its big brother shortly. Very shortly.

Matthias Hunger:

My answer to the problem is to have two crimes, the one preparatory for the other. An example from a scenario I run: 1) Karotechia goons steal a copy of De Vermiis Mysteriis from the Tulane University Library, to 2) summon a Star Vampire with it. The scenario starts when DG learns about crime #1, and ends (hopefully) with the preventing of crime #2.

Alternatively, the bad guys fail at first and then keep trying thoughout the scenario.

The significance of an event

Jesper Anderson initially replied:

Why not put *a* monster first, possibly already defeated by local LEO and/or survivalist compound dwellers when the players get involved, and start out with a promise of more monsters if the culprits causing the first monster aren't caught? That way you get to have your cake and eat it too.

To this, Russel Rayburn said:

Frankly, I like the idea of an "event" as the DG attention-getter.

Given that some summonings (Azathoth) have some serious implications for game play (Soo… we're now playing a post-apocalypse game?) I don't know if I'd use a full scale end of the world OMGWTFBBQ summoning.

However, some monster appearances would seem to make a neat intro:

  • Hunters or Police killing a ghoul: Not only does DG have to cover up the corpse and silence the witnesses, they've got to prevent retaliation from the ghoul warren.
  • Corpse discovered as the result of a Death spell: For the more colorful deaths ( intestinal flora grow to huge side, causing the victim to explode in a shower of blind worms ) there's the cover up of the event plus they have to find the wizard.

Someone with access to their library would know the name of the scenario, but IIRC there's DG investigating the remains of a Byhakee attack. Torn up corpses found in trees, etc.

Weirmonken

A longer reply from weirmonken06:

I'm going to agree with the majority of the previous posts on this thread. From a standpoint of narrative structure, it makes a lot of sense. Starting with a scene filled with action and/or horror is a good way to draw the PCs attention into the game right off the bat. The problem here seems to lie in the fact that the incident in the beginning does does lead to a larger threat.

In Delta Green, the characters are "firefighters", rushing on-scene to deal with manifestations of the mythos, but these incidents are manifestations of a larger problem. The clean-up/investigation afterwards should lead to the cause of the incident so that a confrontation with the horror's origin can bring about a satisfying climax. While the beginning action convinces the characters of the seriousness of the threat, closure is achieved by gaining a better grasp on said threat and eliminating it.

Of course, this is only one way to handle investigations, although it seems to be the most popular one. You can have agents ordered to check on potential threats during their free time, but these would not be official "Nights at the Opera." Instead, this is preliminary investigations on weekends and when they can use what resources they have available at work not to raise suspicions.

These sorts of "passive reconaissance" missions could be fun as filler between operas, as different agents follow-up on previous ops, dig into potential threats, do some DG "grunt work" (making firearms disappear, cleaning up after the scene of another cell's opera, etc.), and highlight the conflicts in their personal lives. You could dedicate entire sessions to this sort of "downtime", or simply use the first 30 minutes of your session to do so (I prefer this, since it lets players ease into the game). Sometimes these non-opera investigations could prove to be serious threats, which inevitably lead to an actual opera.

You could also, potentially, deliver a shotgun-scenario style op where the scenario is only the beginning action with little to no investigation before or afterwards, the DG equivalent of a "random encounter". The prime example that comes to mind here is Metamorphosis.

I'm sure there's a number of other options here, but I can't think of any that would be emotionally satisfying off the top of my head.

Early wound, temporary PC

A reply to weirmonken06 by Edward Lipsett:

Meet with one of the players in advance, and arrange with him that his regular character (if he has one) is going to be seriously injured early inthe game. So that he doesn't have to spend the rest of the game sitting on his hands, he picks up another "ready rolled" character, a friendly or newbie that joins the group somehow. But you have already instructed the player that the character he is playing is actually working for Them.

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