Write Delta Green scenarios the mellonbread way

Write Delta Green scenarios the mellonbread way

Written by mellonbread, originally published in Whispers of the Dead Issue 3

Over the last five years, I’ve written a hundred or so Delta Green modules, ranging from one page scenarios to campaign length adventures. Some of them are even good. I don’t know anything about writing horror scenarios, but I do know a little about writing fun scenarios, and that’s what this article will focus on.

Much of this advice is duplicative of tips I’ve shared on The Green Box, a podcast about the Delta Green roleplaying game. This article will repeat those tips in an easy to reference format, along with other opinions I’ve shared on the Night at the Opera Discord, or kept to myself until now. While I’ve cooled off on Delta Green over the last couple years, I hope these tips will help other people create their own content.


My process is to write all the stuff I’m most excited about first. The images that stick in my head and make me want to write the scenario in the first place. The crazy monsters and weird set pieces and interesting NPCs. Those go into a document with lots of placeholder text explaining what they are and what they do.

Once you’ve got the parts you’re most interested in on paper, it’s time to link them together. An investigative scenario needs connective tissue that allows the players to move from thing to thing. This tissue is made of clues. Some clues are activated by the Agents having the appropriate skills or making logical deductions. Others are given for free. Ideally each set piece will have multiple paths leading to other interesting things.

I like to create a table of contents from my outline early on in the process because it helps me organize things, and acts as a blueprint for what I still have to write. Knowing what content I still “owe” myself makes the task of writing more manageable. Don’t over-scope yourself in this stage. You’ll find that you have plenty on your plate just from your basic handful of ideas, as each thing you create will inevitably obligate you to create other things. If there’s something that’s just totally boring, and adds nothing to the scenario, so that you can’t force yourself to sit down and write it, find a way to write around it. Chop it off and say “now it’s complete because it’s ended here.”

The other thing to do is to add reactivity. NPCs, factions and creatures should have things they do if the players do nothing, and things they do in response to the Agents investigating things. This is a great way to bring the game world to life, control pacing, and help un-stick the Agents if they hit a dead end. Getting stuck in an investigative scenario is not fun, and players often react by either disengaging from the game or with disruptive behavior like trying to beat answers out of every NPC in their field of view. A monster killing someone or a cult trying to kill the Agents is a cool way to get the players back in the action and generate new clues for them to follow.

(To make interesting NPCs, especially villains, just think about the worst thing every character has ever done. Once you figure that out, think of a reason you still like them)

The hard part for me is the hook - the thing that catches Delta Green’s attention and gets the Agents into the game. The Handler’s Guide advises you to start with the hook and build the scenario around that. It’s an interesting way to create an adventure, but if we were doing everything by the book then I wouldn’t be writing this article. It’s good to have something immediately unnatural or otherwise exciting in the hook, because it means the players don’t have to spend an hour figuring out why Delta Green even cares about this.

As for briefings, I don’t care for them. Anything that can be made interactive should be made interactive. Long conversations with the Case Officer, where the players ask every question under the sun, and get “I don’t know” or “that’s classified” as an answer, should be kept to an appropriate minimum. Conducting briefings as flashbacks, while the players investigate the actual crime scene, is great. Letting the players control pregens in an ICONOCLASTS style opening scene, then investigate the aftermath with their real characters, is great. Handouts are a cool way to distribute information, though be wary of players who don’t want to read anything.

If your adventure has esoteric character creation requirements, you should provide pregens. Specific instructions like “the Agents must be Greek speaking CIA Agents from the 1970s” are not helpful because they’re too narrow for the players’ imaginations to run wild with unless they’re experts on the time period and subject matter. Creating pregens also lets you give the characters motivations and skills specifically designed to engage with the scenario.

If you’re writing your adventure for other people to run, remember to use page breaks to separate sections of the document, to make it easier to read. There is no perfectly logical way to organize a document. Some people want NPCs and stat blocks placed in the text where they appear in the adventure. Other people prefer all those things in the back of the book in their own separate section. The most useful things you can do, regardless of your personal style, are:

  • Write a Handler facing executive summary at the beginning of the document that tells the reader clearly what the scenario is about and what happens in it. The reader should not have to learn what is going on at the same pace as the players do. If it’s hard to explain in a paragraph, that indicates you should add additional reference tools like a timeline and a quick reference card of the involved NPCs, locations and factions.
  • Clearly separate Handler facing and player facing information. Don’t mix endgame secrets in with the text of the briefing that an NPC case officer gives the players.


The important thing in a scenario, I believe, is that exciting things should happen and you shouldn’t waste the players’ time. This does NOT mean that everything should be all action all the time, or that investigative gameplay is bad. It means that there should be something interesting to investigate. The players should not have to wander around for the first hour of your four hour session, wondering what they’re supposed to be doing, or which of the seemingly mundane plot elements will lead to something exciting.

I’ve been asked about “encounter design” a few times. Generally the paradigm of Delta Green combat encounters is that the players either pile on as much damage as possible as quickly as possible, or turn and run from an obvious losing battle. Anything you can do to mix up this paradigm is great. Think about horrible things NPCs and creatures can do besides just deal a huge amount of damage to the Agents. Designing your own custom monsters is way better than using the ones in the Handler’s Guide, but think carefully about the circumstances in which the player characters are likely to encounter them, and what the design goals you hope to achieve are. Delta Green’s constrained math for HP and damage mean that small changes have a big impact. A D8 of damage can instantly incapacitate an unarmored player character, or bounce right off an Agent in a suit of body armor.

Humans armed with explosives and fully automatic weapons are generally much more deadly than any monster in the Handler’s Guide, and should be telegraphed ahead of time if the players are going up against them. Legions of special operators piling out of vans to engage the players in Firearms rolls should be used sparingly rather than as a crutch to add excitement to a scenario.

I think it’s good to be generous with magic items, spells and Unnatural points, as long as all these things have a cost. Delta Green isn’t about characters failing to learn rituals or fumbling the use of artifacts. Imagine how much fun Berserk would be if Griffith fucked up his “Use Behilit” roll and couldn’t initiate the Eclipse. Delta Green is a game about grasping the Behilit. It’s a game about taking what you want and paying the price. I like to accompany most SAN losses from Unnatural with a corresponding gain in percentages to the skill.

Voluminous backstories and deep lore are valuable only if you can find a way to make it visible and relevant to the players. A dispute between NPCs or a million year history of a secret artifact can be lots of fun if the players have a way to discover it, and especially if that information gives them an advantage. This is a great way to add roles for Archaeologists, Scientists and other non-combat characters, who tend to get shafted in Delta Green scenarios that are all action.

Atrocities and horrible things are a great way to grab the attention of the players, especially in a historical setting that they otherwise wouldn’t care about, but they’re also easy to overdo. Mass killings and other nefarious deeds quickly lose their shock value and become tasteless rather than intriguing. An ounce of imagination is worth more than a gallon of blood. It’s important to be honest about the contents of your adventure. If it has rape and torture and so on in it, do not try to pass that off as something else.

Speaking of uncomfortable subject matter, think carefully about what “moral dilemmas” you want to insert into your adventures. Delta Green leans hard on “kill someone you don’t want to kill” as its go-to philosophical challenge, and this gets old after the first couple times. Remember that you need to engage the players as well as the player characters. This doesn’t mean that you should force them to do things in the imaginary world that they find morally repulsive, it means you should create situations that hold their attention out-of-character.

It’s fun to make every single NPC a sarcastic, unhelpful asshole. Don’t do this. Create a world that’s worth saving. I guarantee you'll get more happiness from making characters that the players actually like, than the fleeting joy you get from an imaginary person being mean to the Agents. And the players might actually care when something bad happens to those NPCs.

This advice is very “gameplay focused.” If you are trying to create an atmosphere rather than a specific play experience you can ignore a lot of it. Strong imagery and memorable encounters go a long way to cover up a lack of meaningful decisions for the players to make. Night Floors is one of the best Delta Green adventures ever written, and there’s essentially nothing for the Agents to do other than turn around and leave it. God’s Teeth Episode 1 is a whole lot of pageantry around a boilerplate combat encounter that’s over in a few die rolls, and it’s the only episode anyone remembers.

Remember that ultimately, writing scenarios is not that difficult. It does not take any special skills, though practice certainly helps. The important thing is to have an idea that you like enough to put in the effort of translating it into written form. Sitting around talking about how “someone should write a scenario about X” does not persuade other people to write that scenario. Create the content you want that nobody else will write.

The intellectual property known as Delta Green is ™ and © the Delta Green Partnership. The contents of this document are © their respective authors, excepting those elements that are components of the Delta Green intellectual property.