Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Cobb and Tom Show

For those of you poor, benighted role-players who have not had the pleasure, it's my honor to introduce you to the best iteration of modern day Call of Cthulhu that's ever been written.  Take your standard Lovecraft fare, turn the dial to the Current Year, slather on an obscuring layer of X-Files weirdness, recruit a handful of state and federal agents to mix it up in fine mind-shattering fashion, and you my friend are off to the RPG races and you get a tight little game called Delta Green.

Delta Green's central conceit is that the U.S. Government's attack on Innsmouth (as mentioned in the story written by Lovecraft) went off without a hitch, and the Naval Department responsible trundled along for a few years until getting shut down by the mythos compromised men of Majestic-12.  So the members formed their own humanocentric conspiracy within the government known as Delta Green.

Wait.  What?  Why are we talking about Delta Green?  Because Catskinner's Book is hands down the single best reference book I've ever read for a Delta Green campaign.  If you've ever played modern day Call of Cthulhu you've had to deal with the conceit of multiple layers of reality all burbling around each other, and you've had to solve the problem of heavily armed players blowing up monsters all the time and somehow avoiding lengthy prison sentences at the hands of the uninitiated that they are trying to save.  Delta Green solves that conundrum by making the players Federal Agents.

Just like Corbitt, "Cobb" Russwin and Tom White, State Department security men and professional campers.  These two guys could have walked straight out of the pages of Delta Green, complete with contacts, "on loan" excuses for operating "outside their jurisdiction", and so on.  Burnett hand waves away a lot of paperwork with the same freewheeling glee he hand waves away patrol cops not stopping a superhuman fighting a water-blob monster in a convenience mart parking lot that is only stopped when a tentacle mouthed vegetable-girl applies a judicious amount of dishsoap to the amorphous blob.

Oh man, I love that last sentence.

Anyway, the Tom and Cobb show is hands down my favorite part of this book.  In a novel filled with sympathetic characters, Tom and Cobb stand out because they are the most relatable.  I can't really wrap my gray matter around what it must be like to live with a sentient energy killer bound to my soul by a tattoo on my back.  I really can't wrap my gray matter around what it must be like to be a sentient half-vegetable, non-binary gendered, pleasure-drone. 

But a guy caught up in a situation far more complicated than it should be?  Been there.  A guy trying to save people oblivious to the dangers that surround them?  Done that.  Just a regular guy trying make his way in a world where he knows he is outclassed by those around him?  Yeah - that was called Math 403: Linear Algebra for me. 

These guys were my spirit animals in this book, and White taking a high and inside pitch right on the temple elevated the stakes for me.  After countless media examples of "the partners" and "the Feds" being shown as bumbling idiots, Burnett's careful handling of these two was a refreshing change of pace.  We spend more time with James, Godiva, and even Alice, but for my money including a couple of regular guys who have taken up the mantle of Mythos Investigators and treating them as competent, but vulnerable supporting characters was a stroke of genius.  Had they been bumbling, then White's near killing would not have carried as much narrative weight.  Had they been arrogant rather than hyper aware of their own weaknesses, it might almost have been satisfying to see them eaten by the maw of the supernatural.

Out of a whole cast of likable characters, Cobb and Tom stand out as not jut likable, but relatable.

And they'd make damn fine models for a Delta Green NPCs, too.  You Cthulhu Now players could do a lot worse than reading Chapter Fourteen of this book to get an idea of how your agents can slide around inside the vast bureaucracy of the Federal Government and attract enough notice to have some back-up, but not so much that they can't lob pipe-bombs at a cultist meeting before the shoggoths show up.


  1. Thank you. Cobb Russwin is one of my favorite characters in the series and I'm glad you like him, too. (Tom White does show up again, too, in book four.)

    The idea of "campers" I took from William Burroughs, actually--I'm not familiar with Delta Green.

    The name "Cobb Russwin" is a locksmithing in-joke. There is a manufacturer of lock hardware called Corwin-Russwin. It just always struck me as a particularly interesting sounding name.

    I like the idea of having at least one continuing character who is purely human, with no weird abilities, to provide a balancing influence on the other characters. I based his personality on an amalgam of various people I have known with military and law enforcement backgrounds.

    I have a brief and unhelpful interview with him here:

  2. I also like how White carries the visible effects of his situation. He's tough, but ground down by the fight, and manages to shoulder his way through the PTSD...actually, it's more of a CTSD - Continuing Traumatic Stress Disorder.