We got in a game of Carolina Death Crawl Sunday and oh boy– it’s a doozy! I’m going to try to write this session report without saying too much about what happened, just in case others get a chance to play, but this may be difficult.
The essential premise is that four characters (there is no GM/DM) are members of a Union cavalry regiment raiding into North Carolina in 1863– the issue is that all four characters are from North Carolina themselves– some from the areas they are raiding into. The characters commit various atrocities against towns in the raid and then the game begins with them cut off behind enemy lines–likely shot as deserters by the Union and CERTAINLY shot by their own kinfolk for being traitorous fiends to the fine state of North Carolina.
The game is played with action cards, that come in three flavors: Kill, Destroy, Disgrace. In order to get one of said cards you need to act out a scene that involves your character killing someone (not the other characters), destroying something or disgracing your own character in someway. Examples of killing would be shooting contraband, shooting the horses so people have to walk, stabbing people, blowing people up with dynamite–that’s the easy one. Destroy is all about property, livestock, personal items, trains, maritime devices and the like. The third is the difficult one, but I think the most room for creativity. Your character has to act in some disgraceful way like getting drunk during a raid, hiding and running away, stealing from children, goldbricking, mistreating women, mating with various farm animals, running through the streets of town naked brandishing only a gun, these types of things.
When you get the cards, each has some sort of prompt on it and a point value. The game is played via a series of scenes that take place during three acts. During each act every player starts a scene like running away from angry farmers or out of a burning forest or during a robbery of some stately home– during this they can make up characters which are then played by the other players. You play these scenes out to their conclusion (decided by the group) and players can play their prompt cards on the scene to bring in complications like attacking rebels or various wild animals, natural dangers or other drama. At the end of each scene, points are added up and the character with the lowest value dies. The game continues then with the remaining characters until only one is left. Each character gets to describe their death in any way they want.
This would be quite boring for the dead characters except that they become SWAMP GHOSTS who create a scene after all the other characters do so and can play cards on any scene when they want–these are negative cards that subtract from a character’s total at the end of an Act. The swamp ghosts become essentially the king makers as to who lives or dies. They don’t know what cards the player’s have put down on the table or their totals, but they know who they feel should be killed next based on the scenes and roleplaying. If a player wronged another player during the game, certainly that Swamp ghost will make it very difficult on that person to be able to live.
My semi-reglar play group has been experimented on with various RPG’s since the end of their Pathfinder campaign with FATE and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, both of which stretched their narrative powers from before, but nothing like Carolina Death Crawl. It took them a bit to understand that they could make up ANYTHING within the context of the game but they soon got the hang of it and things went completely off the rails. Towns were burned and looted, characters were shot and stabbed by NPC’s and other players, women were needlessly hanged, contraband was at first released and then killed in cold blood.
The points became a bit contentious at the end of the game because everyone basically gets the same number of cards but the points on them are not the same (5 is highest, 1 is lowest). People were saying that you could just make up anything to add a prompt to a scene–and some of them were great, but a few were really stretching it to use the prompt. The equalizer here are the Swamp ghosts. If you play your 5 point card with some shitty description that adds nothing to the scene, the swamp ghosts may NOT go after the character that left them for dead in the mud bleeding out from a gut shot in the middle of the street–they may go after you for shitting on the scene for points! I would just assume you will get to play all of your prompt cards at some point and don’t sweat it– just use them well to create interesting actions, places and complications and it’s all good. The game is not supposed to be fair even though someone technically wins (shot, bitten by snakes and morally crippled as they are).
All in all, an amazing experience for everyone that I hope to both repeat and see other ‘modules’ built out with different situations. The cost is only 15$ or so to get the cards off Drivethru CCG. Since we had 6 players, 2 of us had to play as Swamp Ghosts to start– so I didn’t really get to play as a character (I did get to be a bunch of terrible and helpless NPC’s though) While I recommend this to everyone as a great RPG experience, the subject matter is extremely adult with all manner of atrocities committed both by and TO the player characters.