I promised to playtest Shell Shock if I could find a group to play it with. In early January I hooked up with these guys on teh interwebs (okay, two out of three were old friends) and arranged a test game. We played the first session last Wednesday. I posted an actual play report of the session on Alt+Games blog
, here are the highlights.
As it says in the game's introductory text, Shell Shock puts you in the role of young recruits sent to the frontlines. Facing the hardships of military life and war they will have to make tough choices to survive.
Shell Shock is a set of rules which will allow you to tell the stories of these soldiers. There is no predetermined setting. You can tell the stories of US soldiers confronted to the horrors of the Korean war or the lives of guerrilla fighters on the Polar front of the Mars independance war of 2135. Whatever the setting, the question remains the same: how far will they go to survive?
You can find out more about Shell Shock on this thread
. Shell Shock is available in pdf format on Kobayashi's blog
I was the only one in our group to read the game text before the first session. This didn't provide any hardships for us as I was prepared to explain the rules. The character creation was tightly covered as well as the conflict system. The role of the game master and the preparation and the course of events in the game were left bit vague to me.
The first decision concerned the setting for the game. The players came up with lots of ideas, of which two prevailed: The Battle of Stalingrad and the (at the time) ongoing Gaza conflict. In the end the Gaza conflict intrigued all of us so much that we decided to give it a shot. During the course of our conversation a doubt was cast whether we could treat such an complicated and intricate situation on a sufficiently meaningful level. We agreed that we would see how far Shell Shock would take us on that road. In my mind the game will probably tell a lot more about ourselves and our attitudes about the Gaza conflict than about the actual conflict and the people involved in it.
Characters were set in a unit guarding an outpost along the northern border of Gaza. The start date for the events in the game was 23rd of December 2008, the day the cease-fire negotiations were on-going but would be aborted in the following day. We also decided that all the main characters would be young Israeli conscripts.
The character creation in Shell Shock consists of a series of choices, most of which have four options. First you choose the character's attitude towards the conflict in question, after that her attitude towards military etc. Using this method the characters were made quite fast and with no fuss. We used two principles: 1) to try to make as diverse as group as possible and 2) discuss the different options and choices out loud with the rest of the group throughout the process to great success.
The choices of the characters' attitude towards the conflict and the military focused the players and characters towards mutual interests and the focus of the game itself. We could see instantly what the dynamics between the characters were. These dynamics also developed and became more concrete during play.
As for the play itself, we played one short incident on the border. The conflict mechanic worked okay, but I had some problems allocating dice for the enemy. None of the players used traumas (a major element of a Shell Shock game and an important part of character development) but I think that was because the introductory scenes did not provide much in the way of challenge.
All in all, the session was a success and that was in no small part due to Shell Shock. Particularly the dynamic in the group between the main characters and also the supporting cast developed immensely during our first session. In the same time, the characters became more concrete. Here's my notes about the characters after the session:
Group 2 of the Eureka squad
* Sgt. Baruch ("Kischke") - indifferent, cynic, deviant intellectual from a wealthy family (Matti)
* Corporal Spielberg - authority respecting religious pacifist (Simo)
* Private (machine gunner) Lewandowski ("501") - a believer in the conflict, a slacker and a video game addict (Laku)
* Private Raanan (machine gun loader) - frightful but eager soldier
* Private Hershel (radio operator) - M.Sc., geek, avoids social conflicts
* Private Schmidt - indifferent slacker
* Private Humboldt - your garden variety nationalist
* Private Epstein - approves of hard disciplineand demands others get it too (justice too)
The squad leader ltn. Ben-Reuven has been left in the background but he's certainly not a hands-on leader.
So, we had a great time. The only major problem was my inability to decide on a good system to decide how much dice the enemy would have in each conflict.
So, this short actual play highlight text was a balancing act between not just copy-pasting my blog entry but providing a shorter version of the AP report for those interested and still providing enough information to give a coherent picture of things. Feedback is very welcome on how well I succeeded and what could have been done otherwise.
A more in-depth actual play report (with pictures!) is on our blog Alt+Games
The next session is on Sunday so the next AP report will be up some time next week.