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Legendary Designer John Scott Tynes Returns to Delta Green With Labyrinth Kickstarter

Legendary Designer John Scott Tynes Returns to Delta Green With Labyrinth Kickstarter

Delta Green is the role-playing game of modern horror and conspiracy from Arc Dream Publishing. In it, players take on the role of a conspiracy within the United States government devoted to the hunting down, rooting out, and eliminating of threats from beyond space and time. The game is legendary, and occupies the top two spots on’s role-playing game index. And for the first time since 1999, the co-creator of Delta Green, John Tynes, is writing for the beast he fathered. Labyrinth, a faction book for Delta Green is on Kickstarter!

What Labyrinth Brings to Delta Green

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Horrors dangerous and incomprehensible lurk everywhere, just off-stage, and out of sight.

They are better left there.

But when they step into the light of day, Delta Green gets the call.

It is the job of Delta Green to:

[T]o investigate, contain, and conceal unnatural events, because the unnatural is real and it kills. The world of Delta Green is like our own, but beyond the edges of reality are powers that outstrip the human mind’s capacity for understanding. Sometimes those powers bleed through into our world and destroy everything they touch.

And there is a cost to those willing and able to stand up to such powers. What they learn about the world, and our insignificance in it, is “a cancer of the mind,” it is “an infection of understanding.”

In Delta Green, every victory has a price, be it to body, minds, or morals.

Delta Green: Labyrinth promises players:

[B]rand-new factions for players to encounter. Some will be sources of friendlies, allies, and aid. When their exposure deepens due to contact with Delta Green agents, however, those people’s lives and realities will corrode. A group that begins as an ally may end as a foe. Others will be enemy cults and monstrous exploiters of reality. Even those that start small may metastasize under investigation, gaining power and influence.

Cool as all that sounds, it’s not really the reason to get excited about the product. The reason to get excited is the words, “Written by John Scott Tynes.”

Who the Heck Is John Scott Tynes?

Within the secret crypts of the cult of role-playing, John Scott Tynes is a whispered legend, a myth, and at times, it has seemed a ghost. He appeared out of the ether in the 1990s to revolutionize Call of Cthulhu. He started a blood ‘n guts ‘zine of shocking abominations, The Unspeakable Oath, to support the game. He went on to co-create Delta Green and work on seminal 90s RPGs like Unknown Armies. Eleven books with his name on them flew out of game companies between 1999 and 2003. But Tynes wasn’t just prolific, and he wasn’t just popular, he was great. A fantastic writer with a cosmic imagination, his work succeeded in that most difficult criterion of role-playing: It inspired people to run games. How much inspiration are we talking about here? How can we measure it? Well, one out-of-print campaign edited by Tynes and written by the brilliant Greg Stolze is selling on Amazon for $681.56.

Then, like the wind in the leaves or the stars at dawn, Tynes was gone, and we acolytes of the nerd cult were left whispering his name as thought chanting it might bring him back. We were left to whisper and to wonder how a designer could have burned so bright, and left so soon. And where had Tynes gone? After 1999, he wrote only one thing for Delta Green, a 2015 short story, “The Lucky Ones.”

But stories about Tynes spread. Artist Blair Reynolds, who did the terrifying artwork for Delta Green: Countdown, put Tynes on the cover, splattered with blood and standing with Nazis. Rumor was, Reynolds had a dream in which Tynes ended the world, and he put him on the cover in response.

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In this cover image from Delta Green: Countdown, John Tynes is the second blood-and-fluid spattered man on the top right. The artist dreamed that Tynes would end the world…

In an interview with Geek & Sundry, Tynes said he left role-playing because, “I was just completely and utterly burned out… I left tabletop RPGs entirely. I’d been running Pagan [Publishing] since 1990 when I was a sophomore in college and it was definitely time for a change.”

Like so many role-playing game designers, Tynes moved on to video games. He worked on the Pirates of the Burning Sea MMO, and then ended up at Microsoft where, Tynes said:

I designed… Full House Poker and South Park: Let’s Go Tower Defense Play, both of which were a lot of fun to work on. For Full House Poker I created a thirty-player Texas Hold ‘Em variant in a game-show format called Texas Heat that was a blast to design. I also designed an improvisational funk music game playable with the Guitar Hero/Rock Band guitar controllers and featuring new music from Parliament/Funkadelic’s George Clinton, but sadly that project never made it to release. After all that I started working with the Kinect to develop projects for preschool-age children and partnered with Sesame Workshop and a team of educators to create Kinect Sesame Street TV which was a wonderful collaboration.

Tynes also got married, and had a daughter. He did keep a toe in the RPG world for Delta Green, “basically [at] the godfather level: reviewing contracts, discussing high-level plans, but not getting my hands dirty.”

In other words, life took Tynes away from RPGs. And, it appears, life brought him back again.

The Comeback

We asked Tynes what brought him back to RPGs after over a decade and a half out of the business, and he replied:

I was looking for a personal project to take on and while I had a serial podcast in development, I got inspired by the release of the Delta Green Handler’s Guide [the corebook for the new edition of the game] and Ken Hite’s Fall of Delta Green [Delta Green set in the 60s!]. We kind of cleared the decks of all the old Delta Green antagonists- the Karotechia, the Fate, Majestic- and I saw an opportunity to do what I love most: building new worlds and new mythologies. My new sourcebook, The Labyrinth, lays out a whole new range of antagonists for Delta Green as well as potential allies and I hope it will serve as the foundation for the next decade of games around the table.

Tynes said of The Labyrinth:

It’s a set of villains and allies for Delta Green Handlers [i.e. game masters] to use in their campaigns. Each one explores their history, major characters, agenda, resources, entry points for your campaign, and connections to other groups in the book. But most importantly, each one has a three-stage progression they go through in response to getting involved with Delta Green. They’re not static- they’re basically characters themselves who have story arcs. That minor cult you start investigating may react to your initial encounter by seizing more power and getting more violent. The ally you made who helps you out with research may go so deep into the new world you’ve shown them that their life falls apart. Everything changes in reaction to the players so these groups generate new stories and challenges as your campaign continues.

It’s also a chance for me to take a fresh look at America through the eyes of Delta Green. Delta Green has always been about the fundamental American theme of the group vs. the individual. Majestic-12 was the civilized East against Delta Green’s gunslinging Old West. That’s a theme in America from the writing of the Constitution through the Civil War and right up to the present day, but our politics has evolved in ways I never would have expected. What used to be secret agendas and back-room deals are now openly discussed and presented as evidence of strength. It’s a great time for Delta Green to make its return and open new doors to the horrors of our society.

And as someone who designed some of the most successful RPG products of all-time, what advice would Tynes have for aspiring designers?

My most successful projects have been collaborations. No matter how much of a genius you think you are, your work will always be better when more than one set of eyes and hands are involved. Find collaborators who work as hard as you do, talk all the time, and pass your work back and forth. Be precious about nothing- you have to throw away awesome ideas and deathless prose all the time to be an effective collaborator and if you stick with it, you’ll ship the best thing you could have done.

The Labyrinth for Delta Green is on Kickstarter right now!

More gaming goodness!

Cover image by Dennis Detwiller (Arc Dream Publishing)

Other images couresy Arc Dream Publishing and Pagan Publishing, with the cover of Countdown by Blair Reynolds

Ben Riggs speaks five languages and has lived in four countries on three continents, but still manages to lose his keys in the bathroom. A friend to human, werewolf, and undead alike, you can discover more of Ben’s thoughts on game, the universe, and everything on Twitter, or on the Plot Points podcast. 

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