[SHELL SHOCK] How far will you go to survive ?

edited December 2008 in Directed Promotion
I finished my english version of Shell Shock.

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 are no predetermined setting. You can tell the stories of US soldiers confronted to the horrors of the Korean war or the lives of guerilla 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 ?

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To put it shortly, it's about war and how it fucks up a soldier's mind. It's a free 22 pages long PDF.

The game can be found here

Comments and questions are more than welcome !

Comments

  • Downloadz0rd!

    Is this a completed game? Are you looking for feedback? If so, what kind?

    I'm excited about the theme and love the cover. That's as far as I've gotten.

  • I'd love to get some meat on the details of the game. Mechanically what are the hooks? What makes you interested in this game? What does the game do that other games don't, or what techniques does it collect that aren't found together elsewhere?
  • This looks cool. I remember you talking about it quite a while ago, and I'm glad to see it.
  • Is this a completed game? Are you looking for feedback? If so, what kind?

    The rules are complete, the game does come with tips for the GM but there are no scenarios. But I think that considering the subject coming with one shouldn't be too difficult (and yeah, I'm lazy)

    Considering feedback, one can dream of an AP report but any comment on the game mechanics is welcome. Is a rule too obscure ? Do you think they lack something ? Is something vital missing ? Etc.

    What makes you interested in this game?

    I did my military service in and around Sarajevo in the 1995-96 winter. I always wanted to do something about my experiences there. The point is I wanted a game that put player's in face of agonizing choices. No heroics, no machismo bullshit. War is ugly and it doesn't turn men into heroes, it turns them into dogs, at best. I wanted a game allowing to tell this kind of stories. The ones you see in Iron Cross, The Americanisation of Emily or the Thin red line.

    Mechanically what are the hooks?

    Characters are defined in broad strokes but there is one very important game mechanic at the core of the game : Traumas.

    There are four of them : Violence, Guilt, Indifference and Fear. Represented like this :

    image

    In a nutshell : using a Trauma can save your ass (Violence = kill more people, Fear = step away from a conflict, etc...). each time you use them they go up by a point.

    The problem is, once the traumas reach a certain level your character is fucked up in a way corresponding to the higher trauma (Depression, self-destruction, etc...)

    The problem is, to survive you'll most certainly have to rely on them.

    Another mechanic is Frustration. AFAIC I never read anything in a game about war that deals with those aspects of military life : boredom, incompetence and all the little things the military have thought of to keep up a level a frustration in their troops and that have nothing to do with the enemy. Allowing them to unleash it once on the battlefield

    What does the game do that other games don't, or what techniques does it collect that aren't found together elsewhere?

    I never found any game that allowed me to tell the kind of stories I wanted. Grey ranks and Carry are tied to a specific war and time period. I wanted a game that allows me to play a Forever War game one week, and the uprising of Madrid in 1807 the next. And I wanted a game that focuses on things weren't covered (imho) in other games. Concerning the specific techniques see above.
  • Just downloaded it,

    After the first quick read threw impressions.

    Uggh Trauma , Trauma as story motivatior/starter/punishment

    Classical storygameisms, (Obviously we dont need to know about the rifles the soldiers are shooting or if they kill what they are shooting at, ITS ABOUT THE SOLDIERS not that)

    Actually in detail some of the trauma, its much less heinious than my first impression. Some really neat bits that pretty effectively emulate survivor guilt, etc.

    I found the big peace sign, and lack of easy to find rules to determine those personality and story changes that the game seems to want to be a big annoyance.

    I also find the repeated mantra that the war the soldiers are in doesn't matter (It could be korea or the first martian revolution) to be kinda a lie. The game itself seems to be thoroughly stuck in WW1, Vietnam, Perhaps WW2 just as the americans are coming in. This comes from its about the soldiers man, obviously those silly things like circumstances beside mental anguish have no effect.

    The game seems to be flirting with the void, which can be good or bad depending on what you want from the game. I don't think the game would do Blackhawk Down, All quite on the western front, or Apocolypse Now unless the players were on board and basically ignoring the book at times. I think the game could do a decent trauma motivated ww1 movie, more like what happens in the year after the book. I think it would do an okay Jacobs Ladder with some poking in the right directions.

    My biggest beef (if you can call it that at this point) with it, is that any stress getting to the "Personality" motivation stage should just as likely result in suicide, or actual Shell Shock (you know PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ) rather than the wamby pamby wuthering hieghts of trauma and dispair that the game seems to want. I dont see a whole lot of , this war is ruining my body and mind and a whole lot more , I m gonna leave marge cause im so guilty that i got the new kid dead.

    My First , admittedly quick , read threw.
  • edited December 2008
    Alexandre,

    Thanks, that post makes me very interested in the game. I'll check it out when I have the spare brainspace to do so.
  • Logos, dude, you gotta learn to edit.

  • edited December 2008
    Posted By: Logos7
    Actually in detail some of the trauma, its much less heinious than my first impression. Some really neat bits that pretty effectively emulate survivor guilt, etc.
    Hey, I got one good point !
    Posted By: Logos7
    I found the big peace sign, and lack of easy to find rules to determine those personality and story changes that the game seems to want to be a big annoyance.
    The peace sign is only a gimmick and as far as I'm concerned a matter of taste. But as you point out the game lacks of guidance. The thing is I think I've gone as far as I could with my gaming group. Now I need other people to play it or at least read it to tell me what's missing. Thank you for doing that.
    Posted By: Logos7
    I also find the repeated mantra that the war the soldiers are in doesn't matter (It could be korea or the first martian revolution) to be kinda a lie. The game itself seems to be thoroughly stuck in WW1, Vietnam, Perhaps WW2 just as the americans are coming in. This comes from its about the soldiers man, obviously those silly things like circumstances beside mental anguish have no effect.
    There is a quick note about that p.15 "Choosing a war". It says that the Trauma mechanic is based on modern sensibilities. So yes the game is more fitted for "modern" wars. The game focuses on what wars have in common regarding a soldier's sanity. Being afraid to die, feeling guilty... These are not tied to a specific war. It's the focus of the game so differences between wars (say WWI and Vietnam) are, as far as rules are concerned, irrelevent (imho, again)
    Posted By: Logos7
    the wamby pamby wuthering hieghts of trauma and dispair that the game seems to want.
    In fact I wanted my game to convey the idea that there are no good choices in war. You'll get screwed up anyway. The point for the players is to limit the damage and see how war can change their character, not a despair contest.

    Thanks for the review anyway !
  • Okay maybe I was being overly criticial.

    You made a game, and have published it in some form, congrats, its more than what many do, and a point of pride in itself,

    The Pdf is easy to read, It didn't feel like it was originally in french (if it was im a little confused on that) , No glaring typos, etc.

    Im still , after having time to reflect feel that the game is a bit closer to wamby pamby than i care for, I think your responce helps clear up why it is so however (and is why i am posting this again, aside from trying to have more positive feedback ).

    The game/story advances by the players taking trauma and changing in responce to it. BUT you set up play to " The point for the players is to limit the damage " . Is the character surpose to change or not change, its that feeling that they don't want to but are dragged kicking and screaming into it (against players and characters will) that leads to that dispair feeling. This seems like a game you cant win (which isn't evil, maybe its that kind of game, but it still feels conflicted) .

    Perhaps a better approach rather than grit, and things that depend on the circumstances that you have cut out of the game (like the weapons and the war) to prevent/limit damage is to go gung ho with the damage. There is no defence, no limiting the effects of war and as such focus on that rather than the other way arround. In this way the characters can grow perhaps a bit more organically to the player (rather than having growth be something that happens with the player fails to play well ).

    either way, I'll get out the way no for others. I would definitely recommend this game for a read, and if you like this kinda game, A play.

    L
  • edited December 2008
    Posted By: Logos7
    Okay maybe I was being overly criticial.
    You took the time to read the thing and make a comment, so thanks for that.
    Posted By: Logos7
    The Pdf is easy to read, It didn't feel like it was originally in french (if it was im a little confused on that) , No glaring typos, etc.
    Yes, the game was originaly written in french, and though the translation is far from perfect I'm glad to hear it doesn't read like Bloken Engrish for dummies.
    Posted By: Logos7
    Perhaps a better approach rather than grit, and things that depend on the circumstances that you have cut out of the game (like the weapons and the war) to prevent/limit damage is to go gung ho with the damage. There is no defence, no limiting the effects of war and as such focus on that rather than the other way arround. In this way the characters can grow perhaps a bit more organically to the player (rather than having growth be something that happens with the player fails to play well ).
    In fact there is a problem I faced during playtest. The first draft of the game had precise effects attached to each level of Trauma gained. But finally it proved to be cumbersome and my players played their traumas"naturally". When a player's gains a trauma level, he knows why. He made a choice to do so. So his interpretation of the character evolves from his choice. The tricky part of running a Shell Shock scenario is to make sure player's have real choices, not force them to rely on trauma. One of my players prefered his character to die rather than see him become a violent asshole (choices are rarely that extreme though).

    Plus there are mechanics which can be used to reduce traumas and actually make the players contribute to the stories of their characters.

    But as I said, these are experiences with my gaming group and I'm the one who wrote the damn rules. That's why feedback like yours is needed.
    Posted By: Logos7
    I would definitely recommend this game for a read, and if you like this kinda game, A play.
    Thank you, I'll definitely quote you on that !
  • Downloaded and skimmed through. Seems to have roughly the same key words as an early concept of mine about the same subject. At first glance the strong points of SS seem to be the trauma types (classification and partly accumulation of points) and the character creation (seems to be easier to think up a character with this game's advice than in many other games).

    What is unclear to me is a lot of the rules and judgement, especially where they should occur. As the trauma levels 5 & 10 do not have mechanical consequences, is it just the job of the player to portray his character? Or is GM or other players somehow responsible for this? Personally I wouldn't mind having mechanical consequences (for example, one trauma level goes to 10 => story ends for that character via an epilogue scene).

    In other parts it seems unclear how to run the game, for example:

    * who chooses the random events in R&R scenes and based on what?
    * how to decide what level enemies the players will face? Any guidance on that?
    * is there any formulas for providing enough (= just too much) challenge for the PC's?

    Seems to me that I for one would like some practical figures (á la 3:16) on what to include in one session.

    Still, very interesting and I'm glad that you made this. Now I don't have to :)
  • edited December 2008
    Posted By: wanmansou At first glance the strong points of SS seem to be the trauma types (classification and partly accumulation of points) and the character creation (seems to be easier to think up a character with this game's advice than in many other games).
    That's great as these are the two points that make the core of the game. Glad to hear you liked them.
    Posted By: wanmansou
    What is unclear to me is a lot of the rules and judgement, especially where they should occur. As the trauma levels 5 & 10 do not have mechanical consequences, is it just the job of the player to portray his character?
    For level 5 traumas there are a few guidelines (but maybe not enough as you point out). As I said earlier, the rise of trauma levels doesn't fall from the sky, it comes from the player choices. So far, in my playtests the players have played they're character accordingly because the choices are important enough that they knew that their character had changed.
    But maybe a little more advice would do.

    For level 10 Traumas, my text probably isn't clear enough but this level is an endgame for the character.
    Posted By: wanmansou
    * who chooses the random events in R&R scenes and based on what?
    The traditionnal way : the GM's tells the player's the squad got some R&R, he prepared some events and asks the player what they want to do.

    The "hippie way" : the GM's choose events based on the player's choices for R&R. Let's not forget that players have control over the rest of the squad too.

    The player playing the sergeant has the ability to inflict punishment to other players too.

    To make it short : events described are only examples. You can play out a Rest period or jump directly to another patrol/conflict scene. These can player or GM driven, that's a matter of taste and rules don't really support one way more than the other.
    Posted By: wanmansou
    * how to decide what level enemies the players will face? Any guidance on that?
    In a nutshell : "common" combat, use the regular enemy troops (3 dice). Include Veterans when it fits the scenario (facing an SS Panzer division in a WWII campaign while playing a US recon squad for example). Use Elite only once or twice per campaign and expect casualties/trauma rise among the squad.
    Posted By: wanmansou
    * is there any formulas for providing enough (= just too much) challenge for the PC's?
    Beside the mechanical formulas above, what should make the game challenging for the PCs are the choices they will have to make.There are several examples p.14 and 15 of the rules.

    The quickest way to learn of an imminent attack is to torture a prisoner : will you do it or take a chance and maybe get the information too late ?

    Kamikaze attacks are on the rise. You're on guard duty, a man run towards you, holding something in his arms. Is it a bomb ? Or a dying baby ? Do you shoot him ?

    You are peacekeeping soldiers, ordered not to displace population to avoid participating in ethnic cleansing. The problem is that if you don't help those people to go they will be slaughtered. What now sergeant ?

    These are the true challenges of a Shell Shock session. The rest can be handled with the little advice I gave you above.
    Posted By: wanmansou
    Seems to me that I for one would like some practical figures (á la 3:16) on what to include in one session.
    This is a tough one due to the nature of the game. The structure of a scenario will depend on the war you choose.

    If you play a resistance cell in france in 1942 your scenarios won't be the same as in a game focused on the vietnam war.
    Once you choose a time period and what the squad will represent creating scenarios should come easy.

    The Running the game chapter (p.14) as (little) advice concerning this. A Shell Shock campaign is typically comprised of three scenarios :

    1. Baptem of fire : first patrol, first sabotage operation, first uprising, etc...
    2. The war turning point : stalingrad, the end of the Vercors maquis, Gettysburg...
    3. The end of the war (for the soldier's at least) : tour of duty ends, Berlin in 1945, the end of the uprising...
    Posted By: wanmansou
    Still, very interesting and I'm glad that you made this. Now I don't have to :)
    That's great, I hope you'll give it a try !
  • The game looks interesting, but War doesn't "fuck up" anyone - it reveals their true nature. The premise of your game is really that all soldiers end up pathetic victims - crippled in some way by the experience (the same Liberal "anti-war" bs that's running our country today - or will be as of January 20th). Otherwise you could just use Pirates.

    It's "Peace" based on hypocrisy that's the real problem. Civilization is just the maintaining of order through the threat of violence (by instruments of the State), pure and simple. And if you don't believe that - just wait until the next great blackout or hurricane Katrina or nuclear apocalypse (or just watch a Discovery channel special on chimpanzees in the wild). Of course, those would also make great settings for the game (particularly the chimps!).

    So the problem with the game (from a philosophical standpoint) is Page 8. I'd say that when you've reached that stage, you've stripped away the hypocrisy of Civilization and realized where your true Humanity comes from. (That was much more the moral of The Thin Red Line.)

    --------------------
    "All I ever needed to know I learned from playing Pirates."
  • edited December 2008
    Posted By: Number6intheVillageThe game looks interesting, but War doesn't "fuck up" anyone - it reveals their true nature. The premise of your game is really that all soldiers end up pathetic victims - crippled in some way by the experience
    I think I didn't make myself clear enough in the game then (Though the opening quote by Brecht seemed clear enough to me :o) War puts you in front of agonizing choices. A soldier is not a "victim", what he becomes depends only of his choices. The problem is, from first hand experience, that war puts you in front of choices that fuck you up anyway.
    Putting a kid who lost his legs because of a landmine on a strecher doesn't reveal your true nature (or his by the way), it just fucks you up in my experience. I don't pretend to be the ultimate authority on the subject though.

    "the true nature of a man", "the hypocrisy of peace" are all fine and interesting subjects but the game is not about them. If you think it makes the game less interesting for you, I regret it but it was never my intention to make it a political statement.
    Posted By: Number6intheVillage
    So the problem with the game (from a philosophical standpoint) is Page 8. I'd say that when you've reached that stage, you've stripped away the hypocrisy of Civilization and realized where your true Humanity comes from. (That was much more the moral of The Thin Red Line.)
    When your "civilisation is stripped away" as you say the problem is that you cannot fit in anymore. ("They want you dead or in their lie" is Seann Penn's final quote IIRC)
  • Posted By: Number6intheVillageThe game looks interesting, but War doesn't "fuck up" anyone - it reveals their true nature. The premise of your game is really that all soldiers end up pathetic victims - crippled in some way by the experience (the same Liberal "anti-war" bs that's running our country today - or will be as of January 20th).
    Have you been in war yourself? Have you known veterans?
  • edited December 2008
    My father was in WWII. And one of the main reasons I'm here today is that he had a rear-area job and wasn't in the front lines. That's something I always remember. Meanwhile, my mother was close enough to London to have classmates killed in the Blitz.

    And when I had the opportunity as an adult I travelled to Vietnam specifically to see the people we abandoned so many years ago. I met south Vietnamese who had helped the US, and I stayed in a hotel run by an ex-NVA army colonel.

    I haven't fought in any wars - but I know exactly which ones I would have been willing to fight in - and why.

    But most of all, I know what our society has trained veterans to believe they are.

    In Western countries today, if you join the military you are portrayed as either a fool, a stooge, or too desperate for either a job or an education to have another choice.

    And if you actually do fight, you are considered either a murdering animal, or a pathetic victim - if not physically, then psychologically.

    The most vile man-made creation on earth right now is that big black shrine in Washington DC - a shrine to deaths made meaningless by our society's sick hypocrisy.

    I also don't forget that 4,000 American soldiers have been murdered in Iraq - and tens of thousands maimed - because the Terrorists knew that the US News Media and US Liberals shared their goals and would support them.

    And now OBie is setting the stage to Cut-n-Run from Afghanistan next fall. (He'll cut a deal with the Taliban first.) And we'll leave that country in the hands of people who throw acid in school-girls' faces.

    That's Liberalism. Liberals and the news media spit on the graves and in the faces of soldiers every day, and turn their backs on the oppressed worldwide. They are parasites on the body politic and on "civilization" itself.

    I haven't killed anyone, so maybe I'd feel remorse if I knew they were just a poor schmuck fighting because they were forced to or were misguided.

    But I could kill a Liberal "anti-war" activist without a second thought.
    When your "civilization is stripped away" as you say the problem is that you cannot fit in anymore.
    No - you realize that civilization is a conscious choice that you make about how to live and how to interact with others - but only after you ensure your own survival.
  • edited December 2008
    Posted By: Number6intheVillageI haven't fought in any wars
    Interesting. It appears the man who wrote this game, has. And he's speaking from personal experience.

    Perhaps we should confine our discussion here to talk about this game?
    Posted By: Number6intheVillageI haven't killed anyone, so maybe I'd feel remorse if I knew they were just a poor schmuck fighting because they were forced to or were misguided.

    But I could kill a Liberal "anti-war" activist without a second thought.
    Ok.
  • edited December 2008
    Let's talk about the game, and not about real world politics/filthy liberals/psychic predictions of Obama's upcoming policy failures/retorts/whatevers. That goes for everyone.

    Disagreements with representations of war presented in the game (ex: Number Six's first post) are topical and ok, as well as retorts to those views held on war in the game. Just stick to that realm, let's not bleed politics all over the new carpeting.

    -Andy

    (starting after this line here: Go!)
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  • Posted By: KobayashiThat's great, I hope you'll give it a try !
    Thanks for the clarifications and advice. I'll try to arrange a session of Shell Shock in the near future, provided I can recruit a couple of willing troopers. I'll let you know when/if we have done that.
  • But I could kill a Liberal "anti-war" activist without a second thought.

    And, hey, if we could keep the psychotic, self-aggrandizing murderous threats to a minimum, that would be just great.

  • edited December 2008
    I think the basic system has potential - but it portrays war as completely lacking in context - exactly what all simplistic "anti-war" rhetoric does.

    Contrast that with Grey Ranks. In GR, the system is not that dissimilar, the dangers the characters face just as significant, and the choices the players have to make just as difficult.

    The primary difference is that context. You can't read the historical background information included with Grey Ranks without coming away for an appreciation for why people fight - even when their defeat and death are almost assured. They fight for the smallest glimmer of hope - and when even that is gone, they fight just for the opportunity to die on their own terms.

    GR is about individuals both fighting for their Humanity and finding their Humanity in an inhuman situation. SS wallows in the slow destruction of that Humanity regardless of the choices the characters or the players make.

    Humanity isn't born into us; it isn't a right given to us by some god or anyone else. It's something we create and pass on to our children - something that has been fought for and defended at a terribly high cost. The people who can't understand that don't deserve to live in any free, civilized society (which, unfortunately, still leaves plenty of places to which they can move).
  • edited December 2008
    I see your point, but as I said before what interested me when I wrote Shell Shock was to see what wars have in common. I don't think it makes it irrevelevant regarding the subject, but, well, I wrote the damn thing ^^

    I definitely understand what makes you tick about the game, but it comes from a different design goal. It's not not as much a flaw than a different perspective on the subject. As I see it Shell Shock is not what you're looking for in a game about war. I cannot change this without making it a totally different game. As you said other perspectives are already well covered with games like Grey Ranks (or Carry, and I'd like to take a look at Black Cadillacs too).
  • edited December 2008
    Look, dude, I didn't want to hear your vicious jingoism in public, I certainly don't want it whispered to me. The macho bullshit posturing, the threatening violence to people with whom you disagree, you can shove that shit back up your ass and cease talking to me. Thanks.
    To whom it may concern: When people like you see your family members' bodies burning in the streets on CNN, then you'll realize we're at war. You obvioiusly don't care anything at all about the people who have seen their loved ones die that way.

    And, by the way, I'm assuming you're not a misguided fool. And I respect your right to be a self-serving coward. (I don't believe in over-arching moral structures.) But don't be a hypocrite. If you don't care about anyone but yourself and are willing to let them die in the streets, just come out and say so.
  • edited December 2008
    Andy, help please
  • edited December 2008
    Posted By: KobayashiAndy, help please
    Comments have been deleted. All parties have been whispered. Last call before the bannings begin.
  • Posted By: wanmansouPosted By: KobayashiThat's great, I hope you'll give it a try !
    Thanks for the clarifications and advice. I'll try to arrange a session of Shell Shock in the near future, provided I can recruit a couple of willing troopers. I'll let you know when/if we have done that.

    Okay, now we have played the first session of Shell Shock set in Gaza, December 2008. The actual play report is up on our Alt+Games blog and I posted highlights as a new thread.
  • Your AP is awesome Antti ! Thanks, I noted all your remarks regarding the rules. As the game designer this type of AP is pure gold, kudos to you and your group !
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