GM's Corner: Sail an Iceberg to Sydney

Sail an Iceberg to Sydney is the first complete scenario I’ve written in a long time that isn’t part of my Civil War Cthulhu series. Like several of my other scenarios, it was inspired by a mythos story outside the usual Lovecraft circle: “Cold Water Survival” by Holly Phillips, which I read in the collection Lovecraft Unbound (and is also available in Ms. Phillips’s collection At the Edge of Waking).

I read the story a long time ago, but it made an unusually persistent impression. The intense isolation of a small group alone on the alien landscape of a drifting iceberg was a perfect foundation for cosmic horror. More recently, I saw an article about historical schemes to tow icebergs to warm climates, while also reading my brand new Delta Green Agent’s Handbook. Something clicked.

I had a sketchy idea of modern adventurers on an iceberg, and Delta Green Agents dispatched to keep them from bringing a frozen horror too close to civilization. But I needed some type of motivation for the folks on the ice, both to be there and to try to move the thing back to the inhabited world. I got thinking about the billionaire eco-adventurer angle – basically, the Richard Branson / Steve Fossett gig – and the idea of Mike Rydger’s Project Anthropocene started developing. So a charismatic leader has cooked up a plan to bring an iceberg to Sydney harbor, to make some sort of point about global warming while also proving the value of wind power and satisfying his enormous ego. He’s roped a variety of people into the scheme as his support crew. I got a little science-fictiony to figure out what a technical team might look like (Meta-material sails! Social media memetic engineering! Dynamic iceberg stabilization!). Then I thought about the personalities of the sorts of people might sign up for those jobs in such a grueling and perilous venture. Finally I cooked up a few interpersonal conflicts among them, a couple of soap opera elements that the PCs might crash into depending how they chose to approach their investigation. Now I had a little community of sorts there on the iceberg, with their own goals and storylines, and a nice hook for the Agents to exploit for a cover story.

As I wrote more, I started to consider the thematic aspects of the scenario. The central element is that the whole situation is caused by human action. This is a bit different from a lot of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, which often emphasizes human helplessness in response to forces beyond our control. But in this case, from start to finish, it’s people who cause everything. Anthropogenic global warming has exposed glacial ice that’s been locked in the Antarctic shelves for millions of years. Mike Rydger’s project to “raise awareness” of the situation takes the form of an even more extreme commitment to human technological manipulation. And in the end, it’s Delta Green’s orders and the Agents’ own actions that precipitate the ultimate disaster for the iceberg crew. If they had simply done nothing, maybe nothing bad would have happened at all.

If the scenario seems a little rushed and abbreviated, that was intentional. I was trying to keep it simple enough so that the players could easily complete it in one of our short 2-hour sessions. And I was also interested in the narrative effect of having the players’ actions cause an unexpectedly abrupt climax. It was an interesting test, but the next time I run it I’ll want to give more time for the Agents to get to know the people on the project, and maybe add a few more plot wrinkles to make the Agents’ choices more tense.

The brevity of this version of the scenario had one big perk: it helped me write it up as a submission for the annual Shotgun Scenario Competition run by the Delta Green Mailing List. I got it whittled down under the 1500-word limit, and I’m happy with the result (even if it only got one vote in the contest). You can read the full text of it there, under the final title Project Anthropocene.

If you’d be interested to having me run it for your gaming group, hit me up! I’d like to keep playtesting and improving it. Thanks for listening!