Thursday, January 19, 2017

My awe at the Grey Ranks

The Grey Ranks is the emotional equivalent of getting a sock full of bricks to the back of the head while simultaneously getting hockey punched. Which is kind of the point. This is a role-playing game about playing child soldiers during the disastrous Warsaw uprising in World War II.

In the introduction to Slaughterhouse Five, there is a discussion about how there isn't any such thing as an antiwar story, that movies and stories always make war seem heroic and exciting. The Grey Ranks is about as anti-war as you're going to get, this side of Grave of Fireflies.

Part of what makes The Grey Ranks so strong is the respect and seriousness that it treats the subject matter. This is very heavy stuff, war and love and desperation and depression and death. If Jason Morningstar made light of it, the game would be an offensive abomination.

Particularly since this isn't just about the idea of child soldiers. The Grey Ranks is about a very specific event that actually happened. The book does not only give an overview of the Nazi occupation of Poland and Warsaw in particular, it also gives a number of brief biographies of real teenagers who were part of the Szare Szregi, the Grey Ranks of the title.

What is also very powerful is that the characters are only defined by their emotional growth and journeys. They have reputations which _will_ change over the course of the game and a place on a grid that depicts where they are in an axis of love, hate, enthusiasm and exhaustion.

And madness and death can be the very likely, almost certain, end points on that grid.

When your character dies or otherwise cannot be played, you don't create a new character. Instead, you play the absence of your character and how it affects everyone who remains.

The designer is Jason Morningstar and the mechanics have a lot of the touches I have come to expect from him. No game master, strong focus on narrative, and relatively simple rules but still create a tight framework. The centerpiece of the mechanics is the grid I mentioned, showing the emotional state of the characters.

I read a lot of role playing games. It's kind of become a separate hobby of mine. And there is a very good chance that I will never play a lot of the games I read. I am in between groups at the moment and, frankly, I'm more in the market to find a new board gaming group.

However, I do want to eventually play The Grey Ranks, even if it's just one of the modified, one session versions.

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