I thought it would be a real fun idea to run the 96-page Delta Green scenario Jack Frost at a local bar. So I set out to prep it for about 3 weeks. To be blunt, it was a headache. I run this kind of mystery/horror scenario quite frequently, but have gotten out of the habit a bit just recently. Jack Frost is an excellent reminder of why I got tired of prepping these things. First of all, working with a scenario like Jack Frost feels more like excavation than preparation. The story concepts are very compelling, and if you focus on them in isolation, then you may find yourself pedal to the metal, making arrangements to get some players, print out sheafs of props and cheat sheets and whatnot—most of which are thoughtfully provided by Arc Dream Publishing—and get that monster rolling at your table.
And it is a monster—make no mistake. In fact there are several of them, ranging from predatory reanimated animals to the the most lethal of men in black. It all ends in a show-stopping full blown manifestation of the Great Old One, Ithaqua, the Walker on the Winds, that is beautifully set up throughout the scenario, so that when it lands, it is with dreadful impact. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the best full blown confrontation with Ithaqua I have seen in an RPG scenario.
That said, remember my reference to excavation above? Here is the problem with Jack Frost, from my very practical perspective: in order to have the scenario ready to actually run, I had to first perform an autopsy on it. Not just read it and take notes and prepare a cheat sheet or two—I had to scoop out its narrative innards and then set them aside from loads of what I felt was superfluous data about mission command structure, and folkloric background material that was so anonymous as to be irrelevant. Given the volume of material, it was hard not to become impatient. I briefly considered chucking most of it, and just suturing the good parts into my own unrelated scenario, but so much time had been invested in Jack Frost already—and, as I said, the basic concepts are so good that I hated to let any of them go. So I waded through badly presented story elements, with far too many sidebars interrupting blocks of text. I flipped pages and fumbled about trying to follow the line of text I was reading, and just made due. (By the way, I bought print and PDF, and found the print scenario easier to deal with, but only just barely.)
So my verdict for Jack Frost is 5 stars for imagery, set pieces, and concepts (including some fantastically researched scientific material); 1 star for layout, organization, and textual restraint. It is an amazing scenario, but I can’t recommend it. I have powerful feelings about it…I am inspired. At the same time, it reminds me why I am sick of the standards of organization and presentation in published investigative scenarios. It’s time for somebody to just really take a blow torch to the whole form. Maybe if we melt and reshape it enough, it can evolve out of the 1990s and into something that feels less like a sloppy short story and more like a playable RPG scenario. In the meantime, I am going to think twice before I shell out for another scenario that’s going to take me weeks to process—not because of the scope of the ideas therein, but because there are such low standards for the editing and presentation of scenarios.