For those unaware, The Carcass was a game I wrote, edited, playtested, and produced in two weeks. It’s 88 pages long and an experiment of my design limits. Now that I’ve had four months of perspective on it, there are things I would have done differently with it. Which is why I’m working on the companion pdf, as well as planning a full-bore edition in 2015.
All that said, I’m proud of what this game offers for less than $10.
Over the last four weeks, my friends and I have played in a campaign of The Carcass. Since most GMless games do not offer this kind of experience, it was interesting to the game go this long. We also explored some of the issues that come with a game lasting so many sessions. I had two characters die. As did Andy. We built about a dozen extra NPCs as the game went on and I found that certain elements of the game need to be refined and explained further. Too many players still don’t understand how to use drama points effectively, etc.
But none of the players have read the book, either. So, I accept my role in not explaining it perfectly.
Anyway. On to the actual play.
I’ll try to remember everything as best as I can.
The characters. Rose, the marker (scout). Jojo, the hatchet (thug). Horace, the curate (historian). Jacob, the drone (worker).
We also created four NPCs, two of whom were witches (though that term means something else in the game), one of whom was a drone, and another who was a soldier.
Our tribe was called the Chosen. We had a neutral relationship with the Soldiers of the Stone and we were at war with the Night Razors (and losing). We lived in caves and ate mostly mushrooms. One of the biggest problems facing the tribe was sterility. No one was getting pregnant and the youngest person in the tribe was 12. We would later learn that the other two tribes also had similar problems.
By the end of the first session, we had determined that it was the mushrooms (and perhaps a lack of sunlight) that caused the problem. So some of the women in our tribe had left to live above ground, seeking protection amongst the Soldiers of the Stone. All the while Jacob clung to the idea that the mushrooms were good for us and Horace jockeyed to be a passive-aggressive (kind of sniveling) leader of the Chosen.
In the second session, Rose was kidnapped by the Night Razors, while half of the Chosen moved in with the Soldiers of the Stone. Their leader, Brutus, was about to have children with both Rose and Jojo (as well as an NPC). Let me say this, I’ve never really dealt with pregnancy in a game before. And certainly not in this manner. Having the calender advance in this manner that we would see the birth of these children was amazing.
During Rose’s capture, she revealed the secret of child-birth to the Night Razors — a fact that had been lost to them.
Horace gave up his leadership of the Chosen (leaving Jacob in charge of eight people) and began angling for a job as a sniveling sycophant (to Brutus). And when that failed, he tried to curry the favor of the Night Razors by kidnapping one of Jojo’s babies, which ultimately led to his death. Being dead in the Carcass does not stop you from playing and it allowed us to test a new rule of buying a new character with 10 drama points.
Of course I bought Brutus. And once I became Brutus, Jojo and Rose started plotting HIS death.
This happened near the end of session two. We thought we were nearing the end of the story, but clearly we needed a third session to explore the finale.
The third session started slowly enough, but ramped up when the Soldiers of the Stone slaughtered the Night Razors, taking some of their numbers into our tribe and routing the others. Jacob and the Chosen were absorbed into the Soldiers of the Stone, without consideration, in some hegemonic move to cement relations and strength the tribe. This would be Brutus’ undoing, as he moved to secure the tribe’s future, people saw him as weak.
Brutus married Rose, thinking this would create tribe stability, but Rose was viewed by the tribe as disloyal and crazy. She had amassed a great deal of trepidation to reflect this. So the marriage wasn’t the success that Brutus thought it would be. He then arranged for his brother Axel (now played by Andy after Jacob’s death) to marry Jojo, which also didn’t produce the results he wanted. Jojo complained that ‘fertile’ people should be protected and treated better and when Brutus acquiesced to her demands, this made him look even weaker.
One of the NPCs, Kane, challenged Brutus’ authority and brutalized him in a fair fight. It was the first of many moves to humiliate the once powerful leader. When he regained his strength, Brutus fought Kane a second time and lost again, in an exact duplicate encounter.
At this point, Jojo and Axel began to plot Brutus’ demise. All the while, Rose wanted the same thing. Brutus was a bit of jerk personally, but he was doing everything he could for the tribe’s benefit. The players even realized this for a brief moment, but still followed through on their plans.
I want to point out as an aside, that Diana believed Jojo was a good person, but she never missed a chance to upset the apple cart and plot to overthrow any character who was in charge. She later complained about this aspect of the game, never realizing she was half of the equation of manipulative people capitulating against the authority. Personally, I have no problem with people trying to overthrow the leader. That’s part of the game and what I designed. But you can’t complain about selfish D&D characters and then choose Chaotic Neutral as your alignment.
Session four opened with more hate for Brutus. By the fourth scene of the game, Brutus was dead, poisoned by his own wife. And within minutes of taking the throne, Rose was soundly beaten by Axel in combat. The game spiraled for a little bit, until Rose made a move to seek out the remaining Night Razors and have them attack the Soldiers of the Stone, ultimately teaching Axel a lesson for his actions.
The game ended with a massive battle that was the best to date. The combat system in The Carcass really works if you honor the spirit of it and try not to make it some other game. Here another’s place in the rules where the example is strong, but more player advice on what you’re doing would be helpful.
Again. Two weeks of writing.
In the end, Axel was killed by Rose and a half a dozen Night Razors. Jojo fought off some bad-ass Night Razors and protected her children, and half the tents in the Chosen tribe were burned to the ground. Rose later died from suicide after her baby came down with a fatal fever and she realized the cost of her ambitions. At least, that’s what I think the message was. With no one to oppose her, Jojo became leader of the Soldiers of the Stone.
But at what price?
My final analysis is that I will probably never tire of this game. Though I recognize my friends need a break from it, this game still is exactly what I wanted it to be, albeit it lacks about 20 pages of advice and examples.
I’m working on rules for actually being a sycophant, some powers you can level up to, some advanced uses for drama points and where they go in specific situations.
The Carcass is available at Drive Thru RPG.
You can find additional character classes on the site as well. Expect the companion book by the end of the year, which includes mutations, powers, and some new classes, as well as rules for a zombie future.
Artwork by Tamas Baranya.