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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 154 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [carry] [DexCon] Levels of Engagement  (Read 7140 times)
Nathan P.
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Posts: 536


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« on: July 24, 2006, 07:58:54 AM »

I ran three games of Carry, my soldiers-dealing-with-issues-in-Vietnam game at DexCon, and they all went very well, in slightly different ways. Due to the short-form nature of the game (its designed to play out entirely in one three-to-four hour session), playing three consecutive sessions allowed me to observe some patterns of how people play, which I find very interesting. The actual events of play have all blurred together into one dark smear in my head, but I'll try to hit some hilights from each game. The first part is the summaries, and then a comparative analysis.

Game One: The first game was very savage and short and dark and fun. I had a full table: Alexander, Shawn DeArment, TonyLB, Judd, and two fellows I hadn't met before, Steve and Rich. It got off to slow start - I was actually very nervous to be debuting my game, first of all, and my brain started geeking out about running my game for these "big names," instead of, like, playing the damn game. But once we got into and past the opening scene, and I got over myself, everything went fine. After the first Action scene, with the squad being attacked while in camp at night, we went directely into a narrative concerning the capture of some the Grunts (the PCs) by the VC, and the efforts of the other Grunts to recover them (or not). Alexanders noncom heroin junky character, in the big capture scene, was shot in the back not once, but twice, by his own men, and then dragged off by the VC. In his Epilogue, we determined that he died of heroin withdrawel and infection on the bare ground of the VC POW camp. Sick. This kind of thing happened to all of the characters, it's just that one that stands out in my mind. This game was very short, about 2.5 hours IIRC.

Game Two: This was my favorite game of the three. This time I had five players - Shawn (again! crazy man), RobNJ, Kevin Allen Jr., Jeffery (who I had played Hare and Hound with at Dreamation) and another Kevin, who I met for the first time, and who didn't have any experience with indie games. This game was slower paced, and more intricate, and more satisfying for me as a designer. Jeffery's darkly hilarious portrayal of his Grunt, the Medic, with a Burden about his loss of faith and fear of revealing that loss, was truly memorable. The interaction between this Grunt and Shawn's, the idealistic college student who was having his own issues about fiath and his country, was great. Other-Kevin played the Sergeant and really made the character his own, playing him as pretty chummy with the men. His Burden was about his wife and kids back home, and how he didn't want to lose them. There was a great scene about 2/3 of the way through the game where the squad went on R&R for a day, and I had him get a letter from his wife - not a Dear John letter, but about how his kid was sick and may not survive. He got drunk and shot a dart board. It was intense.

Shawn's character, with his Burden about his domineering father, the Colonel, slotted into Kevin's narrative awesomely. Not to mention Ron's finger-bone collecting "psycho" Grunt and Kevin's quiet, but intensly eff'd up tunnel rat. We ended the game with the squad semi-trapped in a cave entrance, having just driven away an NVA force at the cost of pretty much all the remaining Fodder characters. We had a complex weave of Denouement and Epilogue narrations, and all of them were awesome.

Game Three: I had three players for this game, all of whom were new to me - and I don't have my notes with me, and I forget their names, for I am dumb. One of them had played Shock: with Joshua at Dreamation, and they were actually there for a game of Pulp Era which was canceled. So I was a little apprehensive. But this game went well, for the most part. As soon as the Burdens hit the table, it really gets everyone together in terms of the tone and buy-in to the game. One of the players didn't really seem to engage with the game, in a very "I'm here to hang out with my friends and appreciate their input" kind of way. I finally decided that she was getting what she wanted out of the game, so I stopped trying to pull her into it as much as I started out doing. They generated solid Burdens, and the narrative was pretty linear, going from an ambush in a village through some tunnels and the pursuit of the captured Sergeant. One big thing that I remember - at the beginning of the game, the group establishes the lines for play. As per usual, everyone at this game said "I'm game for anything." Nearing the ending, the Grunts decided to torture a captured VC kid to get info about the POW stockade. We went through the conflict, and the Grunts won, and I said "Ok..." And the player said "So I torture him, and..." and I said "No no. What do you do? You're torturing a 17-year old VC kid to get information. How do you do it?" I very consciously pushed him to the line, and I think the game was better for it. There was a beat, and then he launched into narration, and it was sick and painful and showed how far these characters had come from the first scene.

Patterns: In the first game, we had a number of players who were good at, and interested in, creating issues and problems for their characters in play. Burden's were harsh, and everyone drove directly into conflict with each other. Once the ball was rolling, I just had to give occasional pokes. I felt like we were doing what the mechanics support already, and so we more gave them appreciative nods than really engaged with them. Again, this was the shortest of the three games - part of this was the group size (6), but part of it was that we just didn't need that much time to build up to the ending. In the second game, on the other hand, we had a good mix of people who were into it, but not necessarily adept at generating this kind of play by themselves. So we really engaged with the mechanics, and everything happening on the table directly impacted the fiction we were making together. This game went the full four hours, and we had a lot of interaction between both characters and their Burdens. In the last game, I was working with the game to really push the players into the narrative. I felt like there was a bit of a barrier of unfamiliarity that took some effort to break, and three players is just a little subotimal anyway because you don't get the critical mass (mess?) of Burden interactions. It was a good game! But it was more work for me than the other two games had been.

I also observed varying levels of strategy, in terms of each group "gaming" the mechanics. I'm going to try to summarize without copying out all of the mechanics in question. The first group definitely started out using the most optimal strategy (in order to minimize casualties for the squad), but this quickly broke down under the weight of the characters Burdens and their problems with each other. The second group objectively recognized what the optimal strategy was, but didn't even try to follow it (leading to a VC sympathizer running into the middle of the squad with a sachel charge and taking out a LOT of Fodder characters). The dissonance between this recognition and what they did with their dice definitely informed how their Grunts interacted with each other. Finally, in the last group, they didn't really seem to recognize the optimal strategy, and they generated lots of fallout for the squad. But even after I spelled it out they didn't change their behavior or how they approached those conflicts. This, I don't really understand, unless it was just a function of them not keying in to the connection between their characters opinions and the fallout to the squad.

So I'm totally pumped for how well the games went. But my observation across these games definitly confirms, for me, what Tony has mentioned in some other threads - you can practice whichever skills you need for the kind of play that you want, and that finding the games that facilitate those skills makes it way easier to learn them than it might otherwise be.
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Nathan P.
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My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters
Shawn De Arment
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« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2006, 09:54:39 AM »

I really enjoyed playing Carry the first time. On the second night, I was bumped as an alternate for Dictionary of Mu, and Nathan was kind enough to invite me to play Carry again. After the second game, I felt like I had finished a Thanksgiving meal. I enjoyed every bite, but I am wondering if I should have had seconds. Carry is what I would describe as heavy fun [which I mean in a good way].

I agree with Nathan’s assessment of the first game. If the mechanics were a moving sidewalk, as soon as the group saw which way it was moving, we all started sprinting in that direction. Alexander was the first across the finish line, although most of us weren’t far behind.

In the second game, things were more “low key”, which made it seem more real. I think it helped that the other Kevin had military experience. I played the same character, but with a different burden, which really made it a completely different character. This game seem heavier to me. Even though, my character came out of the war changed for the better, I know his time in the jungle will haunt me much more than the first game. My favorite quote from this game (and Nathan’s too, because I just cut & pasted it from his blog) was, "Dude, this is a FUCKED UP game, where my stakes are that, if I win, I'm going to FAIL my Find Traps roll."

I think people don’t optimize the rolls because failing to optimize creates a more intense (and bloody) story.
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Yokiboy
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« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2006, 11:14:18 AM »

Hello Nathan,

Thanks for sharing this AP, it sounds just as heavy as I was hoping for. I watched Saints and Soldiers last night, and that made me go back and re-read the Iron Game Chef version of Carry, and realize that I should buy it.

Personally I'd like to adapt it to a WWII setting, but will play it as written a couple of times first.

TTFN,

Yoki
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Iskander
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Alexander Newman


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« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2006, 11:33:11 AM »

With hindsight, my corporal (initial burden: I am living in a haze of opiates, I think) was built to resist the game: I don't get the American fascination with Vietnam, I despise any glorification of war, and I was reluctant to sit down and play carry because I didn't want to experience a mere reinforcement of my prejudices.

To my surprise, I found that I was viscerally affected by the play, and the fates of the other grunts. I was less attached to "my guy" - I thought it was entirely appropriate that he got left behind and died frightened, alone, and in agony. I appreciated (I hesitate to say enjoyed) the play of Rich's grunt, whose latent homosexuality helped drive him to do appalling things in game. I was appalled, and yet still happy that his epilogue had him coming out, and then remaining a lifelong friend to the only witness of his atrocity: they both healed in their own ways, and never spoke of those two women again.

So, I was pleased to learn that carry works. It does what I think Nathan set out to do, and manages to be thoroughly and entertainingly engaging in the process. Kudos, man. Now pass the pipe; I need another hit.

Also, Steve-the-awesome-gamer was awesome. Scary and funny and moving.
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Winning gives birth to hostility.
Losing, one lies down in pain.
The calmed lie down with ease,
having set winning & losing aside.

- Samyutta Nikaya III, 14
Nathan P.
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« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2006, 05:50:18 PM »

Shawn - I'm pretty proud of how the narrative gets totally twisted whether you optimize or don't optimize. In the first case, you have to keep on creating more and more elaborate reasons for your character to disobey orders, which falls out into the following squad scenes. If you don't optimize, you literally kill your own squad, often in the name of your Burden. I'm glad that you were in two of those games, and that you observed the same thing I did. You're always welcome at my table!

Yokiboy - I'm glad that it sounds like something you'd dig. I look forward to hearing how it works out for you!

Alexander - Oh my god. Somehow I forgot about the two women at the well. That was a chilling, chilling scene. I probably subconsciously blocked it out. And I'm happy that the game conveys something to someone not immersed in American culture. That rocks.

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Nathan P.
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Find Annalise
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My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters
TonyLB
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« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2006, 06:18:07 PM »

In the first case, you have to keep on creating more and more elaborate reasons for your character to disobey orders, which falls out into the following squad scenes.

Ah, ah, ah!  Not reasons to disobey but reasons to disagree, right?

I found it much easier to disagree (which is, after all, a purely private matter) than I would have to disobey, with all the attendant public interaction.  Yes, it meant that my character was increasingly distanced from his own actions, feeling that he was an automaton blindly doing horrific things at the orders of others, and eventually cracking like a blown egg-shell ... but it was a much more gradual slide than it would have been if I'd had to immediately leap to actual action in order to keep the squad reasonably safe.

I love the agree/disagree balance, by the way.  I think it's a wonderful way to use reward mechanisms (don't get blown up by a VC with a satchel bomb!) to drive people to author stance (Well ... I sorta agree with that sensible order, but I'm going to make up a reason why my increasingly crazed GI lunatic wouldn't!)
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2006, 05:35:04 AM »

Right. Disagree. That'll teach me not to preview before posting.

But yes! The disconnect created between actions and opinions, and the fact that you publicly declare what your character is thinking - both are contributing factors to the gradual (or not so gradual...) decline.
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Nathan P.
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Find Annalise
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My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters
Robert Bohl
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« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2006, 11:37:51 AM »

This is a late hit, but I wanted to mention that I enjoyed finally playing a full version of this, after punking out on you twice before.

I've said it over and over again, but I absolutely love how you get punished for believing in your commanding officer too much.  That's so incredibly subversive.

Finally, I want to address something really not good that happened at the table.  One of the players' wife kept coming up to the table and interrupting the game to ask, basically, if her husband was being a jerk.  We kept reassuring her.  So that was bad enough.  But then she came in during a bar scene and said, "Let me help!" and started roleplaying along.  Okay, so that's weird to do uninvited, but it' --

Oh my god she's touching each of us!  Fondling us!  Dear god where's my pepper spray?!  Don't come near don't come near don't come--oh god she's touching me now!

(and so on)
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Yokiboy
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« Reply #8 on: July 28, 2006, 01:32:24 PM »

Oh my god she's touching each of us!  Fondling us!  Dear god where's my pepper spray?!  Don't come near don't come near don't come--oh god she's touching me now!
Hi Rob,

That is the funniest AP quote I've read in quite some time, thanks for sharing.

I also like your reflection of how you get punished for following your officer, and really want to see how this goes in play. I can't wait to try Carry.

TTFN,

Yoki
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Robert Bohl
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« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2006, 04:45:43 AM »

Thanks, Yoki.  Pain is always funny when you're not the one being hurt!  Anyway, I should clarify that in Carry, you suffer if the balance between those who trust the officer and those who don't is wide.  So if everyone distrusts him, you're in trouble too.
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Oo! Let's Make a Game!: Joshua A.C. Newman and I make a transhumanist RPG
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #10 on: July 31, 2006, 04:53:39 AM »

Hey Nathan,

I'm simultaneously scared of Carry and eager to play it with you.  Hopefully we'll get a chance at Gen Con. 
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Nathan P.
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Posts: 536


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« Reply #11 on: July 31, 2006, 07:12:23 AM »

Hey Rob,

It was a pleasure playing with you, and I'm glad you enjoyed the game!

Finally, I want to address something really not good that happened at the table.  One of the players' wife kept coming up to the table and interrupting the game to ask, basically, if her husband was being a jerk.  We kept reassuring her.  So that was bad enough.  But then she came in during a bar scene and said, "Let me help!" and started roleplaying along.  Okay, so that's weird to do uninvited, but it' --

Oh my god she's touching each of us!  Fondling us!  Dear god where's my pepper spray?!  Don't come near don't come near don't come--oh god she's touching me now!

(and so on)

Wow. Yah. This was weird. I had total social-inappropraiteness brainfreeze. I mean, if she had been some random woman, I would have asked her to please stop interrupting our game. But she was the wife of this fellow Kevin, who was having a good time and really contributing to the game, and I didn't want to offend him, and my brain just froze. In my head I was all "Game ON, GAME ON!!!!" and hoping that maybe her husband would say something...but yes, it was totally bizarre and inappropriate, and I feel bad that it happened and that I didn't say anything. It was just so outside my normal frame of social behavior that I had idea what to do.

Jason - Totally.
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Nathan P.
--
Find Annalise
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My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters
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