M*A*S*H: The Story Game

edited February 2009 in Story Games
I had this idea, but I know I won't do anything with it, so if anyone wants to run with it, go right ahead.

You play an incredibly skilled U.S. surgeon drafted into a medical army surgical hospital during the Korean War. You have one score that says how much the Army likes you, and a sanity score. You set scenes either in surgery, or pulling pranks. A successful surgery makes the Army like you more but decreases your sanity; a successful prank makes the Army like you less but increases your sanity. If your score for how much the Army likes you bottoms out, you go to a court martial. If your sanity score bottoms out, you go crazy. As the score for how much the Army likes you increases, your competence as a surgeon suffers.


  • How does this cover Colonel Potter or Major Winchester? Also, what about the nurses? Case in point: Hot Lips -- loved by the Army, top-notch nurse.
  • I think these rules assume all those not falling into the pranking surgeon category are not PCs. (Which is one reason I don't think I would play this version. I actually did run a True20 one shot game that was basically MASH in the Star Trek universe, and the way I got what I wanted was to identify up front who the targets of the pranks were and who/what had to be taken seriously.)
  • I think this is wonderful. I vote that the various things that change the Army's opinion, and affect your Sanity, aren't the same for each character, but are like Keys in Shadow of Yesterday. You choose one thing that makes the Army like you and reduces your sanity; one that makes the Army dislike you and increases your sanity.

  • - find a way to tie multiple player characters together that isn't simply adding "helper dice". it's nice when the table acts in concert to pull of a big success and the game benefits by rewarding that.
    - talk about external influence on your two values because right now the optimal strategy is to do absolutely nothing. For a two-variable zero-sum system like this to work, something outside the player needs to create an imbalance. Ideally there should be mechanical effects as your stats increase -- how does surgical competency do anything for you? how does and increase in sanity affect you? external influences might just be other characters (GMless already!) but you still need to trigger the cycle.
    - Graham is bang on about needing more character scales than just Hawkeye.
    - I think I'll re-read games I already own that use a zero-sum trait scale. Shock:, say. Bound to be ideas in there. Hmm, you might just be able to re-skin Shock: to do this. How come no one hacks on Shock:?!
  • Chadu: This would specifically disavow the later seasons, that started to soften the tone in the "well, maybe the army doesn't turn everyone into an incompetent shmuck" direction. This would gel more with the earlier seasons, where you had that very strong theme that to be a good soldier meant being a bad person.

    Graham: Nice touch, I like it.

    Halfjack: You could always keep throwing wave after wave of surgery at them. They have to report to surgery, so if they don't pull off some pranks, they'll just go insane. I think those two scales define pretty much everyone in the first three seasons, though; Hawkeye and Trapper, obviously, but Frank & Hot Lips had high scores in the Army liking them and low competence scores, Klinger went for low Army and high sanity, Blake went for a little more of a balance.

    You probably could play M*A*S*H with Shock: but what I really liked in the early seasons, at least, was the very strong anti-military theme and the pull between sanity & competence vs. Army life. But I haven't really thought any of this through, and I don't really plan to do anything with it, so I figure I'll just throw it out there. If someone gets something out of it, that's better than it just rotting in my head.
  • edited February 2009
    You could have each player choose whether their character prefers to be liked by the Army or sanity. Col. Potter prefers to be liked by the Army; Hawkeye prefers sanity. I'm not sure yet what this would do mechanically. Edit: That doesn't mean you can neglect the other thing.

    Instead of pranks, call it "unwinding". Some people unwind with pranks; some with drinking; some with sex. Define a preferred method of unwinding for your character. Edit: That doesn't mean you can't unwind in a different way.
  • That's a nice touch, Chris. I like it!
  • edited February 2009
    I see family as being a very important theme in M*A*S*H. Letters to and from home both positively and negatively affect sanity. Plus, there's times people treat the unit as a family vs. times they treat it as a military organization. So family here and family back home might be something worth treating but orthogonal to the army vs. sanity thing.

    Oh, and all the wheeling and dealing! Don't forget that a lot of the time, pranks were just Hawkeye's preferred approach to the screwy negotiations it takes to get anything done in the Army. But it wasn't just him wheeling and dealing throughout the series. Everybody did it all the time.
  • I think Catch-22 or Apocalypse Now have more potential than MASH, because I can only think of one way to make the surgery part interesting.
  • Posted By: jasonIf your sanity score bottoms out, you go crazy.
    I'm laughing at the concept of M*A*S*H* as Call of Cthulhu game.
    Posted By: Chris GoodwinInstead of pranks, call it "unwinding". Some people unwind with pranks; some with drinking; some with sex. Define a preferred method of unwinding for your character. Edit: That doesn't mean you can't unwind in a different way.
    Definitely love the idea of "Unwinding" narrative scenes, perhaps to refill up depleted stats or something similar.
  • Instead of a sanity number, sanity dice are in your pool for everything including unwinding. Imagine your pool made up of red dice and white dice. Every time you go along with some order one white dice turns red. Every time you unwind you are turning one of the red to white. The surgery would be another thing to turn white to red. Every soldier you work on would be a roll to succeed and every failure would be a white die turning red.

    Every time you roll you run the risk of triggering a collapse. every scene even a prank could dislodge something that needs to be worked trough. You might spiral out of control this way but it would lend the right frame to every scene.
  • Posted By: Call Me CurlyI think Catch-22 or Apocalypse Now have more potential than MASH, because I can only think of one way to make the surgery part interesting.
    "Operation" as conflict resolution?
  • edited March 2009
    Jason Morningstar, report to the thread! Jason Morningstar, report to the thread. That is all.

    Medical Hospital basically does this (as I understand it) though it's a corporate, not military, bureaucracy that stresses the medical staff. But it's relationship-heavy (a BIG part of MASH's overarching themes) and, yes, you actually do the surgery. Though I'm now thinking there was maybe only a handful of "the surgery is CRITICAL" episodes. It was more a foil than a factor. Lots to ponder, with this idea. Heck, It's Complicated could be hacked for this (or not even hacked, just used as the engine). But I'm not sure of its support for episodic play.

    And rather than sanity being a key, I'd let the player choose what eventual dysfunction they are fighting. Hawkeye definitely went ape-shit... though, recall, NOT due to surgery (sure, which was a source of stress) but due to essentially ordering (as he felt, in his guilt) a woman to suffocate her baby to protect a bus-load of people. But others become dysfunctional in different ways (unless one has a very broad definition of insanity). And some were never even remotely dysfunctional: Potter, Klinger (yes, Klinger), Radar, even Hot Lips: they all maintained, though (of course) each had their touching episodes of weakness. In a way, Hawkeye was unique--or, maybe, he had a foil in Winchester (denial was his dysfunction).

    Interesting thought experiment. Hey! Maybe M*A*S*H could be one of the Mini Game Chef terms? ;) There certainly seems to be a number of angles one can take; which is not surprising, given the evolution of the 11-year series.
  • edited March 2009
    Yes, surgery was a foil, as David suggests. Surgery is when all the characters tend to be present in one place, so it makes a great place to do things like address all the problems as a single unit. Maybe an intro surgery scene could structure most episodes…

    Everyone rolls their dice at once. In addition to seeing how these rolls relate to each other, the combined roll could express the tone of the episode. The higher the roll, the greater the challenges to the unit as a whole, and the more the episode focuses on how well or poorly the characters work as a team. The lower the roll, the more the challenges confront particular characters, and the more the episode focuses on relationships between individuals.

    Let's say a total of 60 d6 dice were rolled. If the unit were perfectly balanced, we would expect the total value of war d6s to be 105. Similarly, we would expect the total value of isolation d6s to be 105. Both values or either value might actually roll above or below what is expected. As such, we get a 2 x 2 grid of ways in which lack of cohesion might be expressed in surgery.

    High war + High isolation: Penicillin runs out while shells rain down on the camp and wounded pour in. Find ways to survive and stay sane until a reliable connection with the Army can be reestablished.

    High war + Low isolation: An officer wants special treatment despite all the patients who are far worse off. A dying enemy is caught, and there are many who want him dead right away or want him for immediate questioning, etc. Take a moral stand, then trick or bully the other side into doing the right thing.

    Low war + High isolation: Not much happening, but everyone is cold, hot, bored, ready to relax...except for that one person whose material comfort is making everyone else green with envy. Wheel and deal, trick and treat. Compete to obtain or reinvent some item of "luxury", e.g., the warmest gloves in camp, the latest newspaper, etc.

    Low war + Low isolation: The camp is visited by old acquaintances, investigators, etc. I can't remember what broadly happens during these episodes. Often pranks, but not so much the wheeling and dealing kind. But I'll bet there's something broader going on that that.
  • Cool, guys. This is shaping up into something pretty hot.

    I must say, though, that I'm shocked--shocked, I say!-to see Col. Potter held up as the M*A*S*H C.O. No love for Henry Blake? Don't get me wrong, I love Potter; he's tough, savvy, and ultimately compassionate. But that makes a BIG difference in the show's dynamic! It marks the transition to a whole different kind of story. Blake/Burns M*A*S*H is farce and satire, with Hawkeye and Trapper John as incorrigible Trickster Gods laying low their bumbling oppressors. Potter/Winchester M*A*S*H is a more thoughtful show of complex interconnections and fully-fleshed characters, where even beleaguered authority figures and buffoonish oppressors are sympathetic.

    It's important to know which show you're playing.

  • edited March 2009
    Why either Blake or Potter?

    For myself, I'd want a corrupt, vengeful colonel (but a good guy) who will drain the Army of its resources with glee, but who will also yell when by-the-book appearances aren't kept up. He genuinely cares for the welfare of his subordinates and their patients, but he often manages through manipulation. He's the worst surgeon in his outstanding team, and he's smart enough to realize it. His best friend, a moderating influence on the colonel's passionate and scheming nature, is a brigadier general who is often hanging around camp, either in the colonel's office or near the still, preferring to command his own unit from afar.

    Between the two of them, the colonel and general could quadruple as Honeycut, Winchester, Blake, and Potter. There should be plenty of room for a Pierce, a Trapper, a Frank, a Hot Lips, a Klinger, a Radar, and a Father Mulcahy.
  • Well, if we're talking about departing from the established archetypes, mixing it up, making it your own, varying the theme. . .sure. That sounds pretty damn awesome.

    I was still talking about the archetypes, in the spirit of "how would we arrange a game to get a result like that?" that the thread began in. So in terms of that conversation, I think my point's pretty valid. If you're starting a new conversation, cool: I like your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
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