Over the course of two months he's called home from six different pay phones, from two different cities, never using the same phone twice. And when his mother asked him where he was, he lied. He said that he was in a place in the country with bad cell reception - implying he was in the Tribals - but he was in Peshawar. I'm sorry, but that's not normal guy behavior. That's tradecraft.

— Agent Maya, Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

In simulations, questions will come up regarding how federal agents and experienced DG operatives would handle things in their trade, i.e. exercise tradecraft. According to the book Spycraft by Robert Wallace and Keith Melton, the five pillars of tradecraft are:

  • Assessment (recruiting agents, turncoats, informants within hostile organizations etc.)
  • Cover and disguise
  • Concealment (hiding things)
  • Covert surveillance
  • Covert communication

This is still largely true when the Mythos is involved, but the articles indexed here also collect speculation and research into what characters might have to do under less mundane circumstances.

The basics

Without some knowledge of tradecraft, players will not understand how to carry out an investigation. It is possible to cover thin gaps in education with slang and technical solutions, i.e. skill rolls, but a player will be more engaged when she is able to progress in a specific, meaningful and credible way of her own choosing, such as electronic surveillance, computer hacking or a necropsy.

The central concern is operational security. An ignorant player's actions are reckless and may easily get her cell killed, or left to the wolves, if the simulation is to make any sense. Insane agents must be dealt with. Leaks must be stopped. Media disinformation may prevent a bad situation from revealing the group, sometimes at a high cost, and especially in large-scale operations.

Preparation is vital. Good explanations for agent absence from typical day jobs in federal agencies prevent suspicion. An agent must know when she goes beyond the legislation and the jurisdiction of her (and her fake identity's) government agency.

Any paper trail is a concern. Hence there are procedures around agent pay and other finance issues. Goods may be obtained on the Silk Road and other black market outlets, stored in a Green Box, and exchanged between cells through dead drops. Secrecy is never secondary, but when it is absolutely necessary to apply force, martial arts may not be enough, nor guns, nor even the Rhino teams, who really get their hands dirty.

Official sources

There is some material in official DG publications and other texts by the creators of the game:

  • Delta Green (1997) mentions secure email servers.
    • Chapter 2 (“Delta Green”): The section on Delta Green Agent Chun-te Wu talks about his loose network of “Tiger Team” hackers.
    • Appendix H (“New Skills”) suggests the technical regulation of cryptography among other skills, but has little content.
  • The Joseph Camp letter of 31 July 1998 is an early overview posted to the DGML.
  • Delta Green: Countdown (1999).
    • Appendix C (“New Skills”) outlines a Tradecraft skill. The processes it models are not described. (If you have the d20 version of Delta Green, this skill is mentioned there as well.)
    • Appendix D (“Adventures”): “Dead Letter” talks about a classic typology of approaches, composed of the Overt method (flashing badges like on TV), the Covert method (asking questions, but with a cover story) and the Clandestine method (having no contact with those under investigation).
  • Cthulhu Live: Delta Green (2000): Templates for a scenario timeline, Association Matrix, Activities Matrix and Link Diagram.
  • Delta Green: Eyes Only (2007) Appendix A (“Delta Green Tradecraft”): An explanation of the Green Box in print, an elaborate scheme for secure telephone communications, SAN penalties for murder in the course of an investigation, and a section on computer hacking .
  • Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity (2010) Appendix D (“Forensic DNA Analysis”).
  • Directive from A-Cell 108: “Tradecraft Meets Lovecraft” in The Unspeakable Oath #21, 2012. Some specific historians, autobiographers and journalists are recommended for further reading.


List of pages tagged with tradecraft:

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