XP: Carry A Game About War

21 Apr

Carry a game about war follows an American squad through the unimaginable stress of the Vietnam War. This game tackles some heavy subject matter. In this game you know from the get go that things are going to go real bad for the squad, and we play to see how they are affected by the horrors around them.

Carry is not a game about strategy and tactics. It’s not even set in the actual Vietnam War, rather it is set in our collective memories of the Vietnam War. That may sound trivial, but it makes a world of difference. Just as the Grunts bring their own issues to the war by way of their burdens, the plays bring with them to the game the cultural imprint the Vietnam War left in the American consciousness.

A MEMOIR

The dice economy in Carry is remarkably efficient and riddled with subtleties. Generally speaking, when some mechanical effect is implemented in the fiction you are either giving dice to another player or the GM, or they are cycling in and out of the out of play pool. Once the dice are distributed in the beginning, those dice are the only dice that will be in play. Nothing gets added or removed (well, the burden die may change, but that’s a separate thing). If the GM runs out of dice it may mean an early success for the Grunts, but it will be followed by a massacre.

This is particularly apparent in action scenes. The Grunts pass dice to their ranking officer or the GM based on whether they agree with the orders or not. When these dice are rolled, the high sum gets to distribute the fallout from the fight and the difference between the two pools determines the total fallout received. There are two things to take away from this. First, the squad is going to get hurt either way; it’s only a matter of who chooses which squad members are affected. Second, if the Grunts don’t disagree, and thus don’t pass the GM dice, the fallout will be worse. Sometimes, in the heat of combat you have to make your own decisions, in the moment. Granted, this details was not really internalized by the group and it lead to a few disastrous missions.

Squad scenes allow us to see how the Grunts change under pressure. It is in these scenes that their profiles are truly apparent, and in our game, this is where they underwent the most change. Burdens were also more clearly expressed here (though we still barely got into it). Generally speaking, the more Grunts in a squad scene, and the more escalation, the better. The best moment of our game was a four way conflict in a squad scene with lots of pushing. It reminds me a bit of Apocalypse World where you mark Hx if another player inflicts harm on yours.

A REASON TO BE CARRIED

The one thing that we really didn’t see much of, or enough of rather, was the burdens themselves. This is probably the most important part of the game, so I honestly feel like we missed out on something. The fiction didn’t suffer for it, but it would have been much richer if it had been present.

There are two reasons for this. First of all, to address a burden the player must request a scene, rather than the GM simply setting it. So, that detail needs to be hammered home. Second, there simply was not enough time. Carry is a game that, due to its subject matter, demands its own time and space. It gets pretty dark, and so you may not feel totally comfortable playing it in public and you may need to take it at your own pace. Though Carry is a one-shot, RSGpdx may not be the ideal environment for it.

Though my complaints of this game are minor, there are a couple things you might try to tighten the experience further. First of all, using the approaches in action scenes might give more meaning to die choice and may influence the fiction in a positive way. I’m not sure if this is mechanically sound, so this may do something strange and inorganic with the dice economy, but I think it is worth a try.

The next time I play, I am going to take a page from Dogs in the Vineyard and have a boot camp intro scene where we introduce the character and their burden right away. This would make the burdens unignorable, I think. Also, Full Metal Jacket, anyone? It’s listed as one of the three major influences, so I think it is absolutely appropriate.

THE WAR IS OVER

I am very fond of Carry. Hell, I’m very fond of most games. But Carry is one that I will be returning to very soon. Though there is occasionally some confusion (I wonder what happens when there is a profile change while the out of play pool is empty?), these issues seem to exist more in speculation than in practice.

There is one more thing you should be prepared for, though. After the game finished, and we were all sharing a beer, we realized that we just needed some quiet time. Carry does not leave you with the high-on-laughter excitement of Fiasco. It leaves you introspective and uncertain. Carry hits, and it hits hard.

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