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Author Topic: [carry] Helicopters and Accuser role-switching  (Read 7968 times)
Ron Edwards
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Posts: 16490

« on: March 03, 2007, 03:21:43 PM »


I decided to start a new thread as the first one, [carry] Gun-butts, dope, and non-mutual masturbation, seems like it hit a natural endpoint.

We played our second and final session of carry a couple of nights ago, and the first point to make is a big thumbs-up. This game is our kind of baby.

It turns out that during the interim, Tim K watched Apocalypse Now and Chris tried to watch Platoon (switching it off after early scenes of abuse toward Vietnamese). We played at Chris' new apartment, and he'd set up his music system to pump out tons and tons of late-60s music during the evening. I really enjoyed that.

Before play, I made sure that everyone had a grip on various rules about the Burden-based rules, specifically "resolving your Burden" and the role of Burden dice during Endgame. Unsurprisingly, we began with resolve-Burden scenes by player request.

What happened

I didn't really expect all three of them to request Burden-resolution scenes in a row, but that's what happened ...

Anyway, I decided to start in a POW camp, loosely and probably inaccurately based on the first-hand accounts I'd listened to or read about. I wanted to avoid the images I'd seen in movies as well. So imagine two facing rows of bamboo cages, each about 5' by 5' and roofed at about 8', in a clearing. Each row is a continuous structure with about ten cages. The prisoners are fed, and they can see and hear one another, but they don't get out, and they have no protection from the elements. Escape is ridiculously impossible; I said the cages as a simple-but-unbeatable prison system had been refined against the French and thus had been long field-tested to perfection. I wanted to emphasize the unknown, so I said that Viet Cong soldiers came by a lot, but there weren't round-the-clock guards - basically, the prisoners are left here, taken care of in a desultory fashion, but generally ignored. I started with a heavy rainstorm, as I said, "like a cow pissing on a flat rock."

Everyone stated what they were doing: Elmo was yelling at and blaming everyone else, especially Steinbeck; Wendell was huddled under a makeshift and inferior rain-tent; Tommy was (I forgot, actually); and Steinbeck was doing pullups, using the roof of his cage.

Burden scene 1: Chris looked over Elmo's Burden, and discussion led to me putting a Vietnamese prisoner in the cage next to his. He decided to confront the entry "shoots" but then switched it to "VC run [et cetera]" which worked much better. Basically, after verbally abusing his fellow American prisoners very thoroughly, he tricked the guy into approaching and tried to grab him through the bars and beat his head against them to kill him. The scene included two pushes, including me grossing out and horrifying Tim K by describing the sensations of being eye-gouged (first-hand on my part, thanks), and ultimately Chris failed the roll. The neighboring prisoner managed to break free and stayed far away from Elmo, and he upped his Burden die and added "can't handle restraint" to Elmo's Burden.

Burden scene 2: Tim A wrestled with how Wendell could do anything just sitting in his cell, and I suggested it would be cool if visually, Wendell was utterly still and expressionless, with the whole conflict being inside his head. We went for it, with the character confronting "writes letters to girlfriend every day." The idea wasn't about coming out, though; all of us thought that would be a dreadful and anachronistic concept. It was about losing human connections. So, this one also included two pushes, and I really liked the flashback bit in which we actually got to see the girlfriend, on the night before he left for Vietnam. I framed the scene-in-memory as the two just having had sex, and her sitting on the edge of the bed with her back to him, crying a little. I also liked the fact that we didn't stay in the flashback for all three sub-scenes, but shifted to Wendell's interior rationalizations and sensations. Tim A won the conflict, and he crossed out "writes letter every day," replacing it with "nothing to go home to." He changed his Profle to Soldier; this represented a fair jump across the chart and basically broke the chain of Wendell's prior development as a character across the chart.

In case it's not clear, I as GM was using the Push mechanic as hard as I could, which through these Burden scenes ended up with me running out of dice.

Burden scene 3: Tim K hadn't initially planned on a confront-Burden scene, but he got all excited during the previous two and changed his mind. He wanted deal with the "never let buddies die" entry, and so I easily framed a bit in which the Vietnamese captors had dragged Steinbeck out into the space between the cages and were giving him his routine afternoon's kicking. This is, as I understand it, a far better way to gain information from a prisoner than any elaborate method, especially combined with lack of sleep. Torment is apparently not the key so much as simple wear and dehumanization. The scene included at least one push and I really liked how Tommy tried to shut out the scene, but could not, and therefore shut his eyes and concentrated on the sound of the beating, objectifying them into nonsense. Tim K won the roll and crossed out "never let buddies die," replacing it with "save my own skin." He also shifted Tommy's Profile to Accuser, which was actually a legal shift through the regular rules, but which carried significant power in our game considering how the Profile (via Elmo) had essentially driven our entire story so far.

Everyone wanted an Action scene, so wham - I brought down two rescue helicopters and had V.C. soldiers raking the cages with machine gun fire as well as trying to repel the copters. As it happened, I had no dice, having run out during the previous scene. This led to a very interesting and difficult rules issue. If it had been a Squad scene, then anyone opposing me would have declared automatic victory and given me their highest die, no problem. But in an Action scene, it's possible that I would end up with dice after all, based on disagreement with the CO's orders.

So we ran it by the numbers, waiting until it was sure for me to be out of dice before applying the out-of-dice rules. That means that Chris did have to issue orders and the others had to announce agree or disagree, obey or disobey, to see if I ended up with dice. As it happens, both Grunts agreed with the orders ("Get down!") and so I got no dice, and Chris won the non-roll and gave me his highest. But note - this means that both Tim A and Tim K did lose a die each to the out-of-play pool.

So, the helicopters rescued them. Chris was irked to discover that the out-of-dice rule for the GM meant that the scene would be roll-less, and hence no Fallout could be applied to kill Steinbeck, so he immediately asked for another action scene.

I chose to follow up with an immediate scene, as the helicopter carrying the unconscious Steinbeck and Elmo turned out to have taken too much fire and crashed. This was a very fun scene, as the second helicopter wheeled around to try to come to the rescue, and Elmo did his level best to kill Steinbeck during the fall. The lower-rank Grunts completely disagreed (as well as disobeyed) his orders and I got lots of big-ass d12s to roll, and interestingly, I failed. Not that it really mattered; both Chris and I were pretty committed to getting rid of Steinbeck and proceeding to endgame.

I really, really liked our collective luck in generating only 4 Fallout, which is to say, not enough actually to kill Steinbeck (Chris did a little dance of total frustration about that) but removing him through shellshock, and Chris also shellshocked his own character (he'd used his Burden die) - we really liked the image of the two of them kind of staring and twitching at one another during the final stage of the rescue.

I can't remember when exactly, but I think it was at this point during the session that Chris ran out of dice for the first and only time during play. He shifted Elmo's Profile from Accuser to Brawler. This was hugely important, because having an Accuser CO had driven just about every scene so far. Chris really agonized over which way to shift, too. If Elmo shifted to Soldier, it would be a numbing and dehumanizing thing, in that the understandable-if-despicable Accuser personality was at least based on some semblance of independent ego. If he shifted to Brawler, that would be best understood as losing any restraint or self-worth associated with that ego, turning it into a monster. He finally chose the latter, and we could all see that the decision would be pivotal for the entire story, even though it would have no mechanical consequences during Endgame.

Which it was time for! (next post)
« Last Edit: March 03, 2007, 03:23:46 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Ron Edwards
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Posts: 16490

« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2007, 03:42:04 PM »


Setting the scene was a little trickier than it might be, because I had the helicopter crew and rescue team to think about. The rules of the game probably typically end with the Grunts fully isolated, with the rest of the platoon dead around them, so I asked for some help from the others to help me frame the scene for the Denouements. They decided that we should pick up right away from the end of the last scene, with the three of them in the bay of the helicopter and no one else around.

I'll hold off on discussing the mechanics of endgame. Here's what happened.


This was a pure and simple "men snap" scene, as it turned out. It's clear that everyone had no problem combining their own dramatic sense of justice or injustice with the characters' current Profiles (and how they got that way).

1. Wendell had seen Elmo trying to kill Steinbeck, and gets in his face about it; Elmo pushes Wendell out of the helicopter, to fall down into the jungle.

2. Tommy immediately challenges Elmo for murdering a sqadmate, and ultimately seizes a gun and shoots Elmo.


These were pretty hideous. Speaking for myself, although I as GM did not have any direct authority in them, so only in my capacity as contributor, I consider our story to be a direct and uncompromising indictment of this war and its effect on the people we sent there.

1. Wendell survives the fall but is captured and stays in the POW camp until he dies there, with the unwritten breakup letter in his head and knowing that his girlfriend got the MIA letter.

2. Tommy ensures that Elmo is court-martialed and disgraced, as well as being crippled from being shot. So he must cope with being a Brawler and "can't handle restraint," in that condition - i.e., he suffers agonizingly and indefinitely. Tommy returns to civilian life but brings abuse and torment of others into every relationship.

We did not utilize the wartime setting for its usual purpose in film, for instance, as dangerous ground in which to play out dramatic stories of manly maturation. Toward the goal of truly critical and reflective narrative about this war, I consider carry, the group story-now activity, to be vastly superior as a medium to film.

Endgame rules

I prepared pretty carefully for this, because as it turned out, we had three options to try.

1. The text rules, in which the Burden dice are rolled and the outcomes assign who gets to narrate Denouement vs. Epilogue.

2. The revised rule-idea as emailed to me by Nathan, in which the dice are not rolled and people just pick which to narrate within each pair.

3. The revised revision as discussed with Nathan phone the day before, in which the Burden dice are rolled and the results affect the Grunts in the denouement narrations, but who narrates which is left up to each pair.

We used the third version, as Nathan and I had agreed during the phone call, and unfortunately it featured exactly the same hitchiness that he had experienced and was trying to avoid. Hence, group discusssion! Here's what we came up with.

i) Keep the target-picking and the rolls, just as in the text.

ii) The low-rolling individual in each pair must narrate the Denouement, and must put his Grunt "worse" than the other Grunt in that narration, in terms of the already-stated conflict going on in it.

iii) The high-rolling individual in each pair gets to narrate the Epilogue for the Grunts and has no constraint on content.

We are all agreed that this technique is clear, so no hitchiness or awkward decision-making, and it assures a content/SIS role for the final Burden dice-rolls, hence making all their various increases and decreases during play relevant.

Chatting afterwards

1. We all unequivocally loathe the phrase "resolving" one's Burden. There is no such thing in this game; the scene in question either revises a Burden entry or adds a new one. As Chris said, the name of the rule makes him not want to do it. We all agreed that it should be renamed confronting one's Burden. Also, the accompanying game text referring to "laying it down" is totally inaccurate and should be deleted.

2. Tim K strongly stated that the dice-shift during squad scenes is not a reward mechanic. It's a resolution mechanic which results in a dynamic re-orientation of capabilities for the next scene; it's important, yes, and it's a development mechanic, but it's not a matter of mechanically reinforcing a social reward. He considers that claim to be a holdover from the fanmail-model that the original Game Chef entry used. (Tim, correct me if I'm misstating your point.)

3. This is a great game, fun and exciting. All of us look forward to playing it again and really, really like the nigh-infinite number of stories, perspectives, and themes that can emerge.

Few Vietnam movies provoke thought rather than revel in barbarity or revisionism under the pretense of reflection. This game seems to me to promote the former rather than the latter. My own personal history relating to my father and the Vietnam War is not really Forge-topic material. I deleted a ranting paragraph or two from this post. Suffice to say the two sessions were a very, very strong play-experience for me.

Best, Ron

Posts: 263

« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2007, 01:05:38 AM »

Few Vietnam movies provoke thought rather than revel in barbarity or revisionism under the pretense of reflection. This game seems to me to promote the former rather than the latter. My own personal history relating to my father and the Vietnam War is not really Forge-topic material. I deleted a ranting paragraph or two from this post. Suffice to say the two sessions were a very, very strong play-experience for me.
Ron, I don't normally ask questions of this sort on this forum, but with the power of the issues this game seems to raise, I feel compelled to.

To what extent do you think that carry reflects a specifically American experience of Vietnam? For me this splits into two questions: first, would the game transfer well to, say, an Australian experience, given that Vietnam does not occupy the same space in Australian history and culture?

Secondly, the Vietnam War is seen in the US as an American tragedy, but some would say that the tragedy was far greater for the Vietnamese. This is not a criticism as such; one book or one game can only carry so much of a load. But the question arises for me in the context of some comments Brand made some time ago on his blog (February 2006) about how:

As we get farther and farther into the deep end of game theory, we are ceasing to talk about things that are about our views of game. We are starting to talk about things that are about our views of life.

It seems to me that carry is not the game for the Vietnamese view of Vietnam; that it is not so much a game about war as a game about a specific experience of war. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, but I just wanted to raise the question. Can carry go beyond the US or is that where it stops?

AKA Jeff Zahari
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2007, 07:24:34 AM »

Hi there,

I've stayed away from this question entirely in playing and assessing carry, but the issue is too important for me to avoid when asked directly.

Nathan has stated that this is not a game about the Vietnam War so much as game about American stories of the Vietnam War. I'm glad he stated that, because otherwise I would have had a hard time not condemning it on unfair, political grounds, and I would not have played it.

I am trying very hard not to enter into a polemic. I moderate other people from doing so at this site. Therefore I've PMed a statement to Jeff, because I am certain, no matter how many disclaimers I include, that it will be perceived as a topic for discussion. Anyone who wants to enter into a dialogue about it may contact me privately, although I may say say "no." Perhaps a better venue for this would be the Hamsterprophecy forum; Nathan, if you want me to post that statement there, I will.

My unmodified answer is that carry is about American stories of Vietnam (hence no Australians, no Vietnamese) and that it offers a better experiential medium for (what I consider to be) desirable purposes, for that subject, than what we've seen in other media so far.

As a game about those American stories, it's superior. I am referring to reflection upon the American experience of the war, of the sort that yields conclusions that are not merely repeats of what we've been told or choose to believe.

Film and novels have, I think, failed badly in terms of this true reflection. Even the ones that make a good start (say, the novel First Blood) get transmogrified, step by step, culturally, into saying something other than their texts' contents. Ultimately, I think all the films have stumbled, with occasional brilliance here and there. Their net effect has been to reinforce the repeats of what we've been told or choose to believe.

As I see it, carry offers a smaller-scale yet still social opportunity for such reflection. I think our medium (role-playing, specifically its modern expression as 'story games' although it is still half-formed) is uniquely suited to it.

Best, Ron
Nathan P.

Posts: 536

« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2007, 06:13:55 AM »

Wow. There's a lot I want to talk about in this thread, but I seriously don't have the time right now to devote the appropriate attention to it. But I'll be back to it when I can.

Ron, feel free to post in my publisher forum. I totally don't mind using that space to talk about non-game-specific things that come out of the game.

Nathan P.
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My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
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Callan S.

Posts: 3588

« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2007, 06:31:26 PM »

What strikes me is the eye gouging and grossing out. I've read lots of actual play accounts where the GM has tried to gotten satisfaction from grossing out players or making them feel something. Here however you can see its a means to an end and not an end in itself. It's adding to the eventual ending, rather than 'ha, your grossed out!' end in itself. The same goes for the massacre and gay scenes in the last thread and of course several other scenes in this one.

Preaching to the choir, but I think that without mechanical structure, something like the eye gouge is doomed to be an end, and a feeble one at that. An eye gouge and how you feel...it doesn't push towards any sort of ending. It's just shit that happened. It's the steady, incremental mechanical advance to endgame that brings these elements towards a conclusion, not the intensity of the feeling. I was going to add something about "Saving private Ryan" and some of the deaths in that that just seemed like 'shit happens', but that'll probably blur things in movie critique terms. Though I will say that I haven't watched the whole thing (just saw bits at other peoples houses) and the deaths were just traumatic for me to watch - because there was no rationale there, no attempt to make sense - people just exploded after a few non buildup moments of trying to attach a sticky bomb, for example. It's traumatic because I can't conclude the thing - shit just happened. Atleast if they focused on how he was handling the bomb, with some suggestion of poor use, you could write it off in a gamist way "Oh, see he failed at using the bomb with correct procedure, so its a horrible death, but we've learnt something from it on handling sticky bombs, which is good'.

Okay, rambled a bit there. But system takes a feeling or trauma and guides it towards some sort of conclusion. This makes it worth it engaging the trauma. That's my assessment.

Philosopher Gamer
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