Two of my favorite practical mechanics in Delta Green

I started up a Delta Green [affiliate link] campaign last September, and it’s been a blast. It’s become one of my favorite RPGs, and with a few sessions under my belt that means I’ve done some noodling about why that’s the case.

One part of it — the bit I want to look at today — is that DG deftly combines superb information design with game mechanics designed to reduce handling time and friction. Two examples of that sit right next to each other in the upper left corner of its GM screen.

Two tables from the DG screen, which I’ve called out in red

Don’t roll dice

DG is far from the first RPG to take this approach. “If there’s nothing at stake, or things are calm and you have plenty of time, you succeed” is sound basic advice for most games.

What DG does that I love is quantify that in the table on the left, and do it so concisely that it’s effortless to reference in play. “You’re so good at this that you don’t need to roll” keeps the game moving, avoids needless rolls, and highlights the PCs’ skills. Since you get a check for skill advancement from failed rolls, this approach also ensures that failures that do provide checks are meaningful.

When I’m running the game and a PC does something, my first question to myself is, “Can they do it without a roll?” That’s true in other games, too, but DG makes it so easy to answer.

Flat modifiers

Things get a bit more granular in combat, but “If it’s worth a bonus/penalty, it’s +/- 20%, or occasionally +/- 40%” streamlines gameplay by avoiding stacking little modifiers. A 20% bonus/penalty is a big deal. Anything that isn’t a big deal doesn’t modify rolls. Easy-peasy.

It reminds me of X-in-6 rolls in Old School Essentials (and BRP, and other old D&D systems and D&D-alikes), which boil a sea of possible variables down to a single die with “chunky” increments of 16.66%. I love it there, too.

What delights me about DG’s approach to skill checks and modifiers is that it’s exactly the right approach for the game it wants to be and for the way it’s intended to run at the table. That looks simple, but underpinning that simplicity is thoughtful game design predicated on years of experience.

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