Monday, August 22, 2011

Who Owns P Division?

Arc Dream and Pagan Publishing have recently announced that they will be producing their own RPG system for an updated iteration of Delta Green, which might also mean that Arc Dream/Pagan may no longer be using Chaosium intellectual property in the setting. Based on the GenCon seminar where this was announced, this doesn't seem like a big loss to the Delta Green crew, but it did get me to wonder just who has done what with one particular aspect: P Division.

P Division is a department within the Office of Naval Intelligence responsible for investigating the paranormal, particularly as it applies to naval concerns. Created during the First World War, P Division truly becomes a going concern with their participation in the raid on Innsmouth in 1928. Shortly after American entry into the Second World War, P Division is transferred to the Office of Strategic Services, where its files and operations are given the security classification DELTA GREEN. Eventually, the organization becomes more well-known as OSS/Delta Green than its original (and still official) title of P Division. The unit is disbanded along with the rest of the OSS with the end of the war, but is later resurrected in 1947 to control public knowledge of the Roswell incident. Now simply titled Delta Green, the unit remains an official section reporting to the Joint Chiefs of Staff until a disastrous operation in Cambodia causes its disbandment in 1970. The veterans of Delta Green decide to continue the fight as an illegal conspiracy, which continues up until the latest iteration of Delta Green (circa 1999).

That's the gist of P Div, but it gets muddied when we start separating who has created what in terms of the unit and its history. The following goes into all that, and contains spoilers for the books Adventures in Arkham Country, Delta Green, and Escape from Innsmouth.

P Division first appeared in 1993, with the publication by Chaosium of Adventures in Arkham Country. Within that book of scenarios was a three-part mini-campaign titled "With Malice Aforethought," written by Andrew Leman and Jaime Anderson, which is set at some indetermined point in the 1920s. In the first act, the investigators are relatives of inmates at the Arkham Sanitarium, where a Dreamlands sorcerer has taken on human form as a doctor and plans to use the inmates as part of a mad scheme to open a gate for his lords to come into the waking world and conquer it. In the course of the adventure, the investigators come across a Mythos tome titled Synarchobiblaron. In the second adventure, the investigators are detained by the Arkham police and charged with the murders that took place at the sanitarium. The Synarchobiblaron is locked by the police in the evidence vault of the Essex County courthouse in Salem, where it is potentially used against the investigators at their trial (as evidence of their Satanic worship as motive). Either the investigators are found not guilty or a new set of investigators are introduced to exonerate them in the third act, the Dreamlands sorcerer strikes again, using his agents to return him to the waking world where he can reenact the ritual to open the gate, a plan that requires him to reacquire the Synarchobiblaron. Stopping that plan also requires the Synarchobiblaron, as it contains the necessary spell in "The Banishment of Yde' Edat." In the way of both the antagonist and the investigators is Lieutenant Edward Brookstone and P Division, who arrive in Salem to confiscate the Synarchobiblaron "for use in an ongoing investigation." This is the first mention of P Division:
Lieutenant Brookstone is in charge of a small subsection of U.S. Naval Intelligence known as P Division. Informally organized during the War to look into certain bizarre occurrences in central Europe, the division is currently investigating bizarre and paranormal phenomena. The details of the Halloween trial attracted the attention of the division and the evidence has been seized as part of an ongoing inquiry into cultist activity.
Lt. Brookstone and a team of U.S. Marshals take the evidence, and load it into a Navy truck to drive it back to Boston for a flight back to Washington. What happens from there is up to the investigators, although, as Brookstone is mentioned as being able to get them all pardons from the governor of Massachusetts, it is implied that P Division is convinced to aid the investigators in their fight against the sorcerer.

This is the only mention of P Division anywhere in a Chaosium book, including Escape from Innsmouth. In that book, published by Chaosium in 1992, the man "in charge of the military contribution" to the raid on Innsmouth is cigar-chomping USMC "Colonel James Rothler of Naval Intelligence." While Rothler is described as working for naval intelligence, he is never explicitly tied to P Division. Escape from Innsmouth does create the code-name used for the raid on Innsmouth: Project COVENANT, with those involved identifying themselves with the phrase "Samson" to pass through the roadblocks set up around the town. The book also creates "The Book of Dagon," five conical stones covered with R'lyeh glyphs which Robert Marsh, the high priest of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, had been attempting to decipher when interrupted by the raiders. Finally, Escape from Innsmouth establishes the fate of the Innsmouth prisoners as being shipped to "various clandestine camps and military prisons across the country" before " a secret desert detainment camp is set up and all prisoners are confined" there, although nothing is said of it being in Arizona.

Then, in 1996 (or maybe earlier, depending on any pre-release write-ups of Delta Green in The Unspeakable Oath), Delta Green establishes the meat-&-potatoes of P Division. Fully titled for the first time as the Parapsychology, Paranormal, and Psychic Phenomena Division, P Division's history is laid out in the most significant detail it's received before or since. Delta Green ties P Division into Escape from Innsmouth by stating that it was headed by "Marine Colonel James Whelan, the ranking military officer of Project COVENANT," which re-names Rothler and makes him the head of P Division. The Book of Dagon is also mentioned, with its decoding by the Black Chamber causing the Navy to fully-support P Division and its fight against the Deep Ones. Delta Green also follows through on the containment of the Deep One hybrids, placed here in a secret containment facility disguised as a Naval Air Station in Arizona.

Since then, no book outside of those published for Delta Green have really addressed P Division. The Cthulhu Live books, the LARP version of Delta Green and Shades of Grey, each mention P Division, but neither expand beyond what was written previously in Pagan's Delta Green. Kenneth Hite's Trail of Cthulhu has an entire section on Project COVENANT, but it's not as simple as it might appear:
With former President Coolidge's death on January 5, 1933, the survivors of Project Covenant have nowhere left to turn when they start seeing the same sorts of things they saw that cold night in Innsmouth. Except to each other. They form a secret cabal within the US military and intelligence services, and provide cover and leads for each other where they can. They call themselves "Covenanters" or "Friends of Ezra" (after Ezra Weeden, an 18th century patriot who defeated a wizard), and use variations on "Ezra," "Samson," and the Ark of the Covenant as code words, contact signals, and warning signs.
While a cursory glance might see this as Trail of Cthulhu's version of P Division, it is in fact something entirely different: a secret and illegal conspiracy running parallel to the open (if nominally covert) and authorized operation that is P Division as described in Delta Green. It is instead Trail of Cthulhu's own 1930s version of Delta Green, which even utilizes its own network of "friendlies" in American and foreign embassies. Hite notes that Project Covenant can be "an official (though still secret) operation within the FBI and Navy bureaucracies," but he also states this as a "different sort of style," connoting that its default status is unofficial. Trail of Cthulhu doesn't add many details than those already established in Escape from Innsmouth, except to name certain NPCs differently than the way they were named in Delta Green (Treasury Agent Wade becomes Agent Drew, Rothler who is Whelan in Delta Green is renamed Maines in Trail of Cthulhu).

And that, as far as I know, is entirely it for P Division. Secrets of Morocco makes some mention of the Office of Naval Intelligence, but no other book outside of those published for Delta Green make any reference to the organization. Still, even though the vast majority of what was written about P Division was created by the authors of Delta Green, it may not be so easy to separate it from Chaosium's IP. The name itself was created by Chaosium, as was it's pre-Innsmouth history, although that only amounts to the "bizarre occurrences in central Europe" that inspired its creation in 1917 (and it is Delta Green that is responsible for fixing that date to 1917) and the Brookstone affair in Adventures in Arkham Country. Everything post-Innsmouth, which represents most of what has been written about P Division was created by Pagan Publishing. So what can Arc Dream/Pagan do in terms of separating themselves from Chaosium IP while preserving the history of Delta Green? Well, going back to the source, this is what Lovecraft wrote in The Shadow Over Innsmouth:
During the winter of 1927-28 officials of the Federal government made a strange and secret investigation of certain conditions in the ancient Massachusetts seaport of Innsmouth. The public first learned of it in February, when a vast series of raids and arrests occurred, followed by the deliberate burning and dynamiting - under suitable precautions - of an enormous number of crumbling, worm-eaten, and supposedly empty houses along the waterfront.
Lovecraft also speaks of the captives of the raid being dispersed to "various naval and military prisons," and he does establish the Navy's involvement in the raid by mentioning the "deep-diving submarine that discharged torpedoes downward in the marine abyss jsut beyond Devil Reef.

Based on all that, it's reasonable that, strictly from The Shadow Over Innsmouth alone, the Navy was involved in the raid on Innsmouth. As the Office of Naval Intelligence was obsessed with domestic intelligence during the interwar period, it's actually likely that ONI officers would take the lead when Navy and Marine troops are dispatched against the town. The Shadow Over Innsmouth also establishes that the prisoners from Innsmouth were sent to military facilities. From this, Delta Green can safely be descended from an ONI unit that took part in the raid on Innsmouth. Calling that unit "P Division" and code-naming the operation "Project COVENANT" are probably not kosher. The same goes for "The Book of Dagon" (although there's nothing to say that vaguely described artifacts recovered from Innsmouth were deciphered by the Black Chamber) or that the naval intelligence unit was created during the First World War specifically due to "bizarre occurrences in central Europe," although Central Europe is a big place and it was Delta Green that established 1917 as the date of P Division's creation.

All that said, I happen to like canon specifically when it raises questions, within which lie opportunities to create stories; and there are a lot of such questions that disappear when what's been written on P Division starts to get fragmented. What were the bizarre occurrences in Central Europe that lead the U.S. Navy to create of something as fanciful as the Parapsychology, Paranormal, and Psychic Phenomena Division? What happened to the "intimidating" Lieutenant Brookstone so that the cartoonish Marine Colonel Rothler/Whelan/Maines (who seems so paranoid that he can't go anywhere without an alias) took over P Division within the (no more than) eight years between Adventures in Arkham Country and Escape from Innsmouth? What happened to the Colonel so that the lower ranking Lieutenant Commander Martin Cook had taken over by 1942? How did P Division going from investigating the Dreamlands with the Synarchobiblaron to focusing intently on Deep Ones affect the unit and its officers? Why do the officers involved in Project COVENANT abandon P Division en masse following 1933 and begin a new illegal conspiracy? How does J. Edgar Hoover go from the careerist afraid to tell President Hoover the truth of Innsmouth in 1928 to the regular visitor to the Arizona containment facility in the 1930s? Why would the conspirators of Project Covenant be unwilling to brief President Roosevelt on the Innsmouth raid in 1933, especially as FDR was historically closed to tied to naval intelligence, and how does Project Covenant react when P Division moves to the OSS and (supposedly) briefs President Roosevelt in full on what they've discovered?

It's a bit of shame that I can't easily see a book that covers all of P Division's history from 1917 to 1942, but that's mitigated by the fact that there's nothing stopping Chaosium from producing a book on P Division from 1917 to 1928 (thereby avoiding entangling themselves with all the background created by Pagan Publishing post-Innsmouth). Nor is there anything stopping Arc Dream/Pagan from retconning their own work, renaming P Division to something else and leaving its pre-Innsmouth history as "a strange division of naval intelligence created in 1917 to investigate the paranormal that was reorganized and renamed to [INSERT NEW NAME HERE] following the Innsmouth operation." And Trail of Cthulhu has already side-stepped most of this, as Project Covenant remains this separate conspiracy leading from Innsmouth that hasn't been connected to P Division since then. As for all the interesting questions that arise from the various melding of what's been written about P Division, the bad news might be that the publishers can't steal each other's IP to play around with it, but the good news, and what really matters, is that Keepers can always do it for themselves.

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