Oh, great was the sin of my spirit,
And great is the reach of its doom;
Not the pity of Heaven can cheer it,
Nor can respite be found in the tomb:
Down the infinite aeons come beating the wings of unmerciful gloom.
— H.P. Lovecraft, “Nemesis”
The ancient Greek goddess Nemesis existed to “give what is due” (nemein, in Greek) especially to those guilty of the sin of hubris: arrogance, specifically challenging the gods or shaming others for personal glory or gratification.
Nemesis personifies not merely justice but payback, wielding a whip as well as holding the scales. In a fun mythic-Mythos crossover, Nemesis appears to have been the daughter of Night and Ocean, depending on which ancient source you read, possibly explaining her parentage of the Telchines, flippered “fish children” with the heads of dogs. (In another Lovecraftian touch avant la lettre, Nemesis was also known as Adrasteia, “the Inescapable.”) According to the lost epic poem Cypria, Nemesis’ daughter was Helen of Troy – who, of course, brought destruction on a powerful kingdom after a ten-year war.
All arrogance will reap a harvest rich in tears. God calls men to a heavy reckoning for overweening pride.
— Aeschylus, The Persians (underlined by Robert F. Kennedy in his copy of Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way)
In the Sixties, hubris characterized both the counter-culture, which attempted to throw aside laws and morals (to coin a phrase), and even moreso the United States government and its belief that a planning document and a billion dollars could solve any problem — when guided by the golden hand of the elect(ed) of course. Kennedy and Johnson tried to simultaneously fight a war on poverty and on the Viet Cong, with very little understanding of either opponent, and with even less humility. Time and again, federal agencies confidently planned the end of one problem and spawned ten worse ones. One might also cast all manner of “tampering with the natural order” from Agent Orange to the CIA’s weather-controlling Operation POPEYE — even firing rockets at the face of the Moon — as hubristic, if one were in the mood to do so.
Thus, I incorporated hubris into The Fall of DELTA GREEN as a leitmotif and occasional theme. The clearest example is that of the DELTA GREEN program itself, which comes to believe that it can harness the unnatural to fight the unnatural and pays the ultimate price in Cambodia. The original Delta Green source material hinted at the horrid blowback against the reckless “cowboy” operation OBSIDIAN; later works revealed that the rot had set in earlier thanks to careless overconfidence. In my redaction, the disaster of OBSIDIAN springs from Col. Satchel Wade’s ambition, Robert McNamara’s reorganization, and even from the program’s “destroy the town to save us” tradition going back to Innsmouth – it’s hubris all the way down, in other words. But throughout the book other examples surface, not least DELTA GREEN’s polarized opposite, MAJESTIC – by 1970 not yet fallen, but clearly reaching farther than the gods or Nemesis allow.
The Handler can leave Nemesis in the background, of course, trusting to the players’ sense of historical irony to notice the parallels between fighting the Deep Ones and fighting Ho Chi Minh. Or she can translate it from theme to plot, hand-crafting the Agents’ fate just like Nemesis herself might have, with the occasional special squeeze from the mechanics. The Agents’ final fate depends on the Agents’ specific style of hubris.
Just a Lot of Talk and a Badge
The Agents surely aren’t the first or last law enforcement officers to succumb to the heady brew of legal cover for their outrageous actions. Players who rely on flashing a badge (or delivering an extra-judicial beating) to steamroll the opposition set themselves up not just for Internal Affairs investigations but for the poetic justice of an MJ-3 NRO DELTA team doing the same (or worse) to them. More subtly, they earn the contempt of those they claim to be protecting: one illegal search or unlawful beating looks like all the other ones, even if the perp in this case was harboring a necromancer. Perhaps they shed Bond points with other decent cops, or have to spend points for Reassurance responses they used to get for free. Even worse, they find themselves praised and “assisted” by corrupt and brutal Feds and cops – and maybe get invited to join the “Friends of Dom” (FoDG, p. 300).
The Sin of Faust
The classic fate of Cthulhu’s querents since time immemorial has been to destroy themselves with the knowledge they sought. When Agents feel confident that they know a Deep One from a shoggoth, it’s time to pull back a little and show more of the “skull beneath the skin.” The Handler can shuffle the signifiers around as the book suggests, introduce an educationally toxic contradiction, or just feed the Agents more tomes and bas-reliefs to batten upon. (Ritual Addiction (FoDG, p. 201) exemplifies the opportunity here perfectly.) Simply learning the truth about the universe’s malign un-nature corrodes Stability and Sanity, and in The Fall of DELTA GREEN your quest also ablates away those you most care about as Bonds break and burn. With the tight Stability economy of the game (which starts out generous but turns mean, speaking of policy echoes) the mechanics already drive home this punishment.
It’s very possible that DELTA GREEN Agents can “summon fire from the sky” in the words of Colonel Kurtz, calling in B-52 airstrikes on targets in Indochina (and lesser strikes outside overt war zones). The Bureaucracy test Difficulty for an ARC LIGHT (or BARREL ROLL in Laos or Cambodia) mission might be as low as 3 if the Agents have a legitimate tasking for heavy air support, or as high as 7 if they have to pull some strings. That’s not actually very hard. But as Lovecraft might have pointed out, “there’s always a bigger fish.” Perhaps someone, or Something, in that jungle can call in their own apocalypse now, and has no incentive to hold back.