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Directive From A-Cell 102: Conspiracy With a Little ‘C’

Categories: Items of Mutual Interest

By Adam Scott Glancy, © 2005

Editor’s note: Adam Scott Glancy’s “Directives from A-Cell” column first appeared in Worlds of Cthulhu and now can be found in The Unspeakable Oath.

In an earlier directive I briefly discussed the appetite that Delta Green’s foreign audience has for inventing Delta Green-style agencies for their home countries so that local players feel more at ease. I can certainly understand why foreign players intrigued by Delta Green’s contemporary setting would prefer a government-sponsored Mythos investigation group set in their home country, but Pagan Publishing is not going to add dozens and dozens of Mythos-aware agencies to the canon of the Delta Green universe. Otherwise our secret world of conspiracy and supernatural horror would get a bit crowded, much like White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade, where nearly every interesting figure in history turns out to be sporting a pair of fangs. Evil supernatural conspiracies and cults are going to be added to the canon all the time since the supply of villains will be thinned by the Investigators’ successes. New allied organizations will be fewer and farther between. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a little expansion.

Over the years we’ve had a number of fans send us their own Mythos-aware government agencies in the hopes that they might find their way into the Delta Green canon. It should come as no great surprise that few of these were printable. What always surprises me was that nearly everyone simply took the blueprint of Delta Green and grafted it onto their own country, creating an independent multi-jurisdictional agency with deep resources, wide access to intelligence reports and a near perfect understanding of the Cthulhu Mythos. Why is it that when folks imagine a government agency that has contact with the Mythos it is always something big, well-organized and knowledgeable? Delta Green only has two out of those three attributes, being well organized and (fairly) knowledgeable. Even the sinister Majestic-12 group lacks any real knowledge about the nature of the Mythos, no matter how large its pool of personnel or black budget may be.

Not every submission missed the mark. The one submitted agency which made the cut (and joined the canon in Targets of Opportunity) did so for several good reasons. First, the author began with Lovecraftian fiction as his starting point. He used the material from the stories of Lumley and Derleth as the pedigree to show the initial point contact between the Mythos and the particular government agency he was interested in. As he advanced his history forward to the present, the author incorporated the real history of his national counterintelligence service into the fiction. By the time he was done he had a small but well-organized unit with a very limited understanding of a narrow aspect of the Mythos, but nevertheless positioned perfectly to learn more. While I do not want to give away anything, let me just say that anyone planning to send in a Delta Green-style government agency for Canada should probably pick a new country to write about.

Canada's M-EPIC is here to do some good.

Canada’s M-EPIC is here to do some good.

There is plenty of room in the Delta Green universe for smaller conspiracies of Mythos-aware law enforcement and intelligence personnel. The idea that appeals to me the most is that of a modern Call of Cthulhu campaign where the Investigators are members of a police unit concerned with the kind of crimes that cultists are likely to commit, and where through the campaign the Investigators become aware of the Mythos and bend the police unit towards a new mission — opposing the Mythos. In this way, the Investigators get to build their own database of Mythos knowledge and get to define their unit’s mission, unburdened by any prior history or existing policy.

What I am suggesting here is a kind of conspiracy with a little ‘c’. The setting for a government-based Mythos investigation could be as simple as one Mythos-aware municipal police commissioner putting together a group of four or five dedicated investigators who are willing to look beyond the expectations of the mundane world when the facts demand it. Such a unit could be a sort of Mythos version of the “Hat Squad,” the unofficial police unit from post-WWII Los Angeles that dealt with organized crime with a campaign of brutality, intimidation and, according to some writers, murder. Certainly, when the criminals are using Mythos magic or are worshipping Great Old Ones, it may be more practical to ensure that they die in shoot-outs while “resisting arrest” or “attempting to escape” rather than imprisoning them. Lovecraft’s stories are rife with examples of imprisoned sorcerers using mystical means of escaping their cells. Of course, it would be even more horrifying if the cultist escapes through that most vile of means, the court of appeals.

The main problem with a municipal police-based campaign setting is coming up with an explanation as to why there is enough Mythos activity in the area to keep a dedicated police unit busy enough to entertain a group of Call of Cthulhu players. Having the city be home to one cult isn’t sufficient since the Investigators may be successful enough to completely eliminate the cult and thus the need for the special squad. That can be easily rectified with the inclusion of the Call of Cthulhu version of Sunnydale, California’s Hellmouth, some mystical lodestone that attracts the Mythos and its agents. It could be a Great Old One sealed beneath the city, or the ruins of some temple or gate to another dimension. Regardless it would be the kind of thing that couldn’t be destroyed or moved, but would have to be sealed and guarded against.

Going National

Of course, some Investigators and Keepers won’t be satisfied with a campaign that is set in one city and its close environs. They’re going to want the opportunity to travel into new and unfamiliar places. That means, at the very least, a national police unit. A national Mythos-aware police agency could be modeled on something like the South African Police Service’s Occult-Related Crimes Unit. Witchcraft scares are quite common in South Africa, with as many as 500 persons being killed in the rural northern provinces between 1990 and 1995 by mob violence carried out against suspected witches. The mob violence was inspired by all the usual suspects: ignorance, bad luck, poverty and natural disasters, but also there were a number of well-publicized murders that were committed by practitioners of traditional African magic, sometimes called “Muti.” The Muti homicides were committed to acquire the ingredients for potions to ensure financial and political success. Details are scant, but I suspect that if people were being killed to harvest the ingredients for tribal magic and medicine, then a fair number of the potions being brewed were quack cures for the AIDS virus. After all, South Africa was the same country that had an outbreak of child rape because a local myth said if you had sex with a virgin it would cure all venereal disease. In any case, the high number of these homicides prompted the South African police to create a unit dedicated to investigating crimes whose motives were occult-related. The Occult-Related Crimes Unit got some big headlines when Scotland Yard consulted them about the limbless, headless torso of a five-year old Nigerian child found floating in the Thames River in 2001. Considering the cadaver’s stomach contents included quartz pellets, ground animal bone and gold, the London police were right to suspect that such a murder could be related to tribal magic. Eventually the ritual was linked to Nigerian animist appeasement of a sea goddess. Mother Hydra, perhaps?

The far less sexy truth about the ORCU is that it was created by an officer named Kobus Jonker following his conversion to fundamentalist Christianity. Jonker made sure to only permit officers with fundamentalist beliefs to serve in the unit and made numerous statements in the press that demonstrated his primary concern was not tribal magicians but Satanists. These guys were more interested in looking for backwards-masked satanic rock and roll lyrics than understanding the purposes behind ritual murder in traditional African magic. Too often, when police agencies get involved with investigating occult-related crimes on anything more than an ad-hoc basis, we end up with the same old conspiracy theories about a vast international network of satanic killers hunting for sacrifices, more informed by Hollywood horror movies than actual evidence.

Nevertheless, a unit like the ORCU makes a good model for a national police unit that Investigators can build a campaign around. Here is a small unit of government-backed investigators dedicated to a category of crime that will give them access to a wide range of criminal cases. After all, there’s no telling where signs of occult activity are going to turn up at a crime scene, especially if you define “signs of occult activity” so broadly that it includes heavy metal albums and pornography. If the Investigators manage to keep their eyes open, maybe they will see that beneath the Satanism and tribal magic there is something else, something older. It warms this old Keeper’s greasy black heart to imagine the Investigators finding signs of the Cthulhu Mythos and reporting them to their born-again superiors who ignore or reinterpret the Investigators’ findings so that they comport with traditional views of Satanism right out of the Salem witch trials. The ORCU wouldn’t get too far against an avatar of Nyarlathotep if they come armed with a bible, some holy water and a bushel of crosses. Perhaps the survivors of such an encounter would be able to reorganize the unit into something that will be able to actually oppose the supernatural evil of the Mythos.

Sex, Drugs and the Mythos

Of course, very specific circumstances led to the creation of the ORCU. Witch scares, mob violence and murderous Muti practitioners are not likely to prompt the creation of such a unit in Europe or the developed countries of Asia. On the other hand, there are criminal phenomena that can send western populations into apoplexy in the same way that accusations of witchcraft banish all rational thought from an African village.

The ritual abuse/recovered memory scandals of the 1980s resulted in some of the most hysterical prosecutions the United States has ever seen. It was a period that saw the publication and circulation of guidebooks and training manuals for law enforcement agencies to combat the nationwide and invisible Satanic child abuse conspiracy. Recently, Europe seems to have gone through a spasm of a similar kind. One of the first incidents was the astounding story of the Belgian serial killer Marc Dutroux, who not only kidnapped young girls for rape and torture but also murdered them and one of his own accomplices. The case got entangled in astounding police incompetence, stories of recovered memories, dubious people claiming to be Dutroux victims, and wild tales that Dutroux was acting as a procurer for a Europe-wide ring of rich and powerful child-molesters. This caused an eight-year delay between the arrest and conviction of Dutroux and his co-defendants. The accusation that a wider conspiracy was covered up by the government gained a lot of cachet in Belgium despite a complete lack of evidence.

France went through a trial known as the Outreau pedophile case where the four people who were definitively involved with child abuse and molestation managed to get other neighbors arrested by implicating them in their crimes. Before they were done one of the accused committed suicide, seven accused spent months in jail before being released for lack of evidence, and ten were convicted of child sex crimes despite the fact that their accusers retracted their statements and confessed to making up the story of a wider conspiracy. Then there was a 2002 case in France where convicted serial killer Patrice Alegre managed to muddle his latest prosecution by circulating stories to the press that he committed some of his murders on behalf of rich and powerful French politicians and industrialists to protect their involvement in a secret sado-masochistic sex and drug club. Despite the fact that there was no proof for these accusations, one French prosecutor resigned his positions after being accused.

So what has all this got to do with Delta Green? These cases indicate a willingness by the public to be swept up by accusations of conspiracies of sexual predators. Perhaps these sorts of witch-hunts could lead to the creation of a dedicated police unit to stem this sort of hysteria, much the same way the South African ORCU was created. Such a unit would give the Investigators access to cases that will lead to uncovering the involvement of the Mythos. A campaign set inside a single national law enforcement unit does have the limitation that the Investigator’s authority ends at their nation’s border. Keepers should not see this as a drawback, since a scenario that forces a group of Investigators beyond their jurisdiction would provide more challenges. Imagine how frustrated the Investigators will be when they trace the agents of a Mythos cult to another country only to discover that local law enforcement is either bought off, intimidated or co-opted by the cult. At that point, the government Investigators are reduced to being vigilantes if they want to take direct action. They may even be accused of being terrorists.

Although Investigators are going to want an agency with an international reach, organizations with international jurisdiction are few and far between. In almost every case, that jurisdiction is extremely limited. In most cases, international task forces are not permanent, but are ad-hoc creations designed to deal with a particular case of international crime and are dissolved as soon as the case is resolved. An exception to this is the Europol agency. Designed as more than just a replacement for the Interpol information-sharing system, Europol targets international smuggling and customs violations as top priorities. Smuggling covers everything from illegal immigrants and white slavery to drugs, money, weapons, antiquities, and a host of other items that Mythos cultists are going to have on their Solstice wish list. All it takes is one intercepted crate with a basalt idol of some squatting Great Old One to start the Investigators down the road to understanding.

A Europol-based campaign would give a small group of Investigators jurisdiction across the European Union, an entity that is expanding its geographic scope every year. They would begin as normal police officers from diverse backgrounds, but as more layers of the onion are peeled away, they come to understand the horrible truths that they must array themselves against.

And that is the part that appeals to me the most about these ‘small c’ conspiracies. I really like the idea of the Investigators creating their agency as they play the campaign, setting their own rules and making their own plans. I think players appreciate being masters of their own fate, even if that fate is the kind most often encountered while playing Call of Cthulhu. 

Shane Ivey runs Arc Dream Publishing and is the lead editor of the newest Delta Green projects.
  1. THE MAN IN BLACK
    What an excellent article. Now that it has even greater exposure, I can hardly wait to see all the wonderful creative output that this informative and useful guide will inspire.

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