Welcome to Illusory Sensorium, a blog written by an amateur game designer with an unusual background in clinical neurology and computer science.
I am undertaking this blog to connect with other creators, and to explore the design of imagination games. I prefer this term, rather than tabletop roleplaying games, as it highlights their shared roots with childhood make-believe or fantasy play. There is a natural affordance: "the game is played with your imagination," and this seems fundamentally as important as "the game is a conversation" and "play to find out what happens."
I would like to focus on ludological phenomenology rather than getting lost in the weeds with taxonomy. I am interested in all sorts of imagination games: adventure games, story games, lyric games, et cetera.
In that spirit, it felt apt to start this endeavour with a personal observation of play, regarding an explicit mission statement.
I recently introduced Delta Green to an experienced player group, and the closest popular media touchstones are The X-Files and the first season of True Detective, but they belie the pregnant psychological horror in this vein of fiction. There is no perfect elevator pitch, although here are some evocative lyrics:
Delta Green is broadly about the fundamental tension in America between authority and agency, and narrowly about the visceral experience of heroic tragedy...
...speaking calmly to an innocent who saw too much, while you drive them to the place you will leave them with a typed suicide note, and a convincing head wound...
...watching your daughter's piano recital, trying not to think about what you saw in the mirror of that old house, while she plays the very song you heard emanating from the darkness...
...watching a relationship irreparably break, knowing that you can save them or love them, but not both...
...training at the range to always save one round in the magazine, for when you inevitably can't save yourself.
I transitioned from character creation to scenario introduction by having the players read aloud an agents' standing orders from the supplement A Night at the Opera. We performed this in call and response fashion, akin to swearing an oath. The orders were (edited for brevity):
Agents’ Standing Orders
These are operational priorities that every agent learns, although they must never be written down.
In a Delta Green operation, agents must first determine whether there has been an “unnatural” incursion. If there has, their orders are:
First Priority: Stop the incursion.
Second Priority: Obscure the incursion.
Third Priority: Obscure Delta Green’s involvement.
Fourth Priority: Secure advanced technology.
Fifth Priority: Save lives.
Within the fiction, the characters kept calling back to these standing orders, even seeking affirmation when the collatoral damage for stopping a monstrous incursion was the manslaughter of an innocent child (that also had us reaching for our safety tools).
Without the fiction, this burn after reading missive concisely set the tone and purpose for players. The performative recitation also tapped into games as rituals, constituting the journey inward.
This was not a prescribed step in opening a Delta Green session, but the experiment was quite successful, and I will be trying this out in other games. It also suggests an approach to the strong start: having just stated the mission, we can launch into a scene that puts it into jeopardy or internal conflict.
Have you tried something like this in one of your games? Did an explicit mission statement enhance your experience? I would love to respond to your comments below.